One of the problems/annoyances I’ve encountered teaching fiction writing is that students very often want to write allegedly creepy and disturbing stories about violent…stuff. About serial killers, serial rapists, creepo stalkers, etc. I just get sick of reading them. They are never any good, they are always ill-imagined, and they never stop coming. One semester I had a class with 25 students, and 23 of them turned in stories about serial killers or rapists.
It was too much!
“What do you know about serial killers?” I asked the students. “Just what you see on TV, right? But I bet every single one of you knows a shoplifter—or is a shoplifter. So why don’t you write me a story about a shoplifter!”
And of course no one ever did, or has….
So, anyway, I bought Goon Squad just after it came out in paperback, and I carried it around for a year and a half before I actually got around to reading it. And of course I fell in love—it’s a wonderful, beautiful book. But I was especially thrilled by “Found Objects” —a story about a kleptomaniac, which is sort of like a shoplifter. Finally, I had a petty theft story to share with students.
And so I was rereading it this morning before class, and I came across a short sentence that I missed the first time I read it, a short sentence that sparked a shock of recognition in me
“It’s almost like she did it on purpose,” Alex said. “For attention or something.”
“She didn’t seem like that type.”
“You can’t tell. That’s something I’m learning, here in N.Y.C.: you have no fucking idea what people are really like. It’s not even that they’re two-faced— they’re, like, multiple personalities.”
“She wasn’t from New York,” Sasha said, irked by his obliviousness even as she sought to preserve it. “Remember? She was getting on a plane?”
“True,” Alex said. He paused and cocked his head, regarding Sasha across the ill-lit sidewalk. “But you know what I’m talking about? That thing about people?”
“I do know,” she said carefully. “But I think you get used to it.”
“I’d rather just go somewhere else.”
It took Sasha a moment to understand. “There is nowhere else,” she said.
Where had I read that before? That—or something similar?
In Hemingway. The Sun Also Rises.
It was a warm spring night and I sat at a table on the terrace of the Napolitain after Robert had gone, watching it get dark and the electric signs come on, and the red and green stop-and-go traffic-signal, and the crowd going by, and the horse-cabs clippety-clopping along at the edge of the solid taxi traffic, and the poules going by, singly and in pairs, looking for the evening meal. I watched a good-looking girl walk past the table and watched her go up the street and lost sight of her, and watched another, and then saw the first one coming back again. She went by once more and I caught her eye, and she came over and sat down at the table. The waiter came up.
"Well, what will you drink?" I asked.
"That's not good for little girls."
"Little girl yourself. Dites garcon, un pernod."
"A pernod for me, too."
"What's the matter?" she asked. "Going on a party?"
"Sure. Aren't you?"
"I don't know. You never know in this town."
"Don't you like Paris?"
"Why don't you go somewhere else?"
"Isn't anywhere else."
"You're happy, all right."
Is this a deliberate allusion by Egan, or just a coincidental line of dialogue? If it is deliberate, why? Is there some connection--across time, across texts--between Sasha and the prostitute? I don’t really know. But it was fun to find this. We live in such a very mysterious world—and, just like the characters in Goon Squad are connected and networked and intertwined, so too are the products of our culture, our books, our music, our movies….