The New Yorker / Paul Theroux
I subscribe to the "New Yorker"...mainly for the cartoons but also for the fiction and I do enjoy their "Letters From..." and "A reporter at Large" sections. If anything about politics is in there, I avoid it. I do not know or understand politics, politicians or the pundits who write and speak about the political scene. I think the whole nasty area is simply a reaffirmation of the old arguement, "how many angels can dance on the head of a needle?"
In this post I simply wish to review Paul Theroux's story, "The Furies", printed in the Feb.25th issue of the New Yorker and also on the New Yorker's web site.
The story has a simple premise. An older man, in this plot a dentist, dumps his wife for his assistant…Nothing new there….that happens all the time. The characters may change but the plot is the same. However, Theroux sneaks in something he thinks is a little different. The upset wife puts sort of a hex on the husband.
"I hope you suffer now with that woman who's taken you from me. These women who carry on with married men are demons."
Well I guess that's a hex but it doesn't sound any more ominous to me than threats I've heard from other dumped wives. I particularly like "You dirty bastard, I hope you die" but I guess Theroux prefers a more veiled threat.
The dentist decides to take his new wife (despite her objections) to his high school reunion where he is immediately confronted by three of his ex girlfriends who have become drunken hags and each one has a beef with him because he had kissed them and tried to feel them up.
For the life of me I cannot understand what the crime was. Every young man tried to feel up every young girl when they were in high school but the dentist's new wife is supposed to be upset for his behavior forty years previously.
Next he takes his new wife to the old make out spot where they decide to get it on only to be interrupted by the women from the reunion calling him a pig. They hurriedly leave and go back to the hotel where the new wife is not in the mood for sex. He gets a crank call in the middle of the night but neither his wife nor the reader knows who it comes from or what was said.
Then he decides to visit his old neighborhood where he is confronted by a fat, sloppy, piggy, chain smoking woman who accuses him off kissing her behind the garage and running away.
So far, he has only been and acted like all boys growing up but his new wife and the reader is suppose to believe that he is some kind of sex pervert. Even if he had had sex with any of them, (and Theroux doesn't say that he did) he has not been accused of rape…only kissing and groping. But, the poor wife is getting upset. Maybe she believed that the 58 year old women that were haunting him looked the same when they were in their teens and she couldn't understand what kind of taste her new husband had in ugly old hags.
When they get home, there is a note from "Ellie" on his porch. Another one of his past sins has arrived. His sins with Ellie are a little more serious. But Ellie doesn't show up at his door. Joyce does. Joyce was married to a photographer. Our hero met them, got the hots for Joyce, and waits until her husband is on assignment and then hits on her. True, not a gentlemanly thing to do but he doesn't rape her. He only paws her and is rejected. Not cool. but not a crime that a woman would drive a long ways to tell his new wife.
Then he wakes up in the middle of the night with Ellie in his room telling him that he ruined her life. He had gotten her pregnant and she had a botched abortion and her life was ruined. Again not the coolest but I would say Ellie was as guilty as he was but evidently the new wife was horrified by all the women from his ancient past. She is now sleeping in a separate bedroom.
Then they decide to see a marriage councilor and the bride insists that it has to be a woman and surprise, surprise, it turns out to be another woman from his past. This one got drunk with him and they had sex. According to her, it was not consensual. Maybe it was date rape…maybe not. Again not good but to have her pop up out of nowhere (the ex wife couldn't have set that one up) was a bit over the top.
Next appearing in our little melodrama is an old cleaning woman (actually she was young when the dentist pawed her) that tells his new wife that he had groped her while she was cleaning the office. This is too much for the new wife who then quits as his assistant but for some reason doesn't divorce him. They continue to live together but only as room mates.
Then he discovers that his ex wife has died and he is happy because he sure she was behind all the haunting women that were turning up. That's the last straw for the new wife. She divorces him, takes most of what he has left and he lives the rest of his life being haunted by a hag with his face and the voice of the new wife.
Okay, I admit that I had to keep reading to see where the story went. So, in that regards I would say it was worthwhile. I just felt it was not of the caliber of "Mosquito Coast" or even "Riding the Iron Rooster" but of course those were full length novels.
No this short story was more on the level of "Hotel Honolulu". I never got passed the 3rd chapter of that book. I believe the premise of the story has a lot of merit and could be a good novel if Theroux wanted to expand it into a full length novel and make his hero a little more heinous in his actions with the women of his life.
One last thing that bothered me was that the dentist and the assistant were not having an affair but they did fall in love. He immediately went to his wife, told her, divorced her and gave her half of everything without a whimper. Certainly a bit of a cad on occasions but not the dastardly asshole that the women of his past made him out to be.
Posted by George S Batty