Review: "The Warm Fuzzies" by Chris Adrian

New Yorker fiction | September 27, 2010 issue
Approximate word count: 7200
POV: Third-person

Loved it. Not just because it reminded me of my childhood church/music experiences, but because Chris Adrian is able to get into a young teenage girl's (Molly's) head and just rock the thoughts that would fly through it. It's pretty remarkable how close and natural and believable this third-person is.

The situation is we have a large white family, led by a father who makes his children sing his original Christian songs in a group. The other thing is, they are constantly cycling in and out black foster children.  Molly has seen them all, can barely remember who was who. But as Elizabeth McCracken reminded us, a story should answer the question:  How is this night different from all other nights?  Peabo, the latest foster kid, is how it is different.

Peabo gets under Molly's skin in a way the others haven't.  He can't play the tambourine, but he can dance in her bedroom. The sexual undercurrent here is masterfully presented, and what Peabo does for Molly is bring her dormant rebellion to the surface just by being ... strange.  Strange in a way that things are strange to kids, like little dances and gestures and movements that they make up meanings for.

I don't often have the pleasure of reading something so awkwardly reminiscent of my awkward years, so well attuned to the pubescent psyche, and so well and satisfactorily rendered to boot. Adrian zeroes in on the way Molly's frustrations and unspoken impulses undercurrently burble and patiently lets them develop delicious and trembling bit by bit until ... until the freaking great final scene.

Read it.


dunkeys said...

Bummer that no one else is commenting, so you're stuck with my negativity. Double-bummer!

I didn't enjoy the Adrian piece nearly as much as you. I'll agree that it's a 'close and natural and believable' third-person. Does that merit kudos for a story published in the NYer? I don't think so. I certainly know you weren't saying that the story is good simply because of the nicely done narration . . . but pointing out that it's believable and natural is maybe a bit of a slap to other NYer stories: that they don't carry off something we should take for granted in good fiction is a (triple?) bummer.

Anyway: for me, the story felt too long, and the last scene seemed apparent from the opening. Generally it was too familiar for me - a couple bits recast (Peabo, the singing), but the form is the same. If McCracken says, How is this night different?, I'd counter with, How is this story different? (Not that it's a fair question . . . but, well, isn't it?)

dunkeys said...

Also, I'm excited to be able to conduct a conversation about fiction here -- so my disagreement about the Adrian piece is meant more as enthusiastic conversation than anything.

Grendel said...

I didn't see the end coming. And what she does there is something I always fantasized about doing in church. So maybe my fondness for the story is based on personal issues.