THE BLOG
03/08/2013 05:43 pm ET | Updated May 08, 2013

Paul Theroux's Furies

You've read and witnessed the putative subject of Paul Theroux's recent New Yorker short story The Furies too many times. A dentist Ray Testa, who is 58, leaves his wife Angie, to run off with his 31year-old hygienist, Shelby. At the wedding he announces: "I now belong to an incredibly exclusive club. There are not many men who can say that they're older than their father-n-law."

The story is blunt and almost graceless like the character it describes and it sports none of the lyrical sorties of the Cheever/Updike generation but the territory of suburban infidelity is naturally a subject that those writers addressed in the pages of The New Yorker generations before. However, the landscape seamlessly changes. Proud of his conquest, Ray insists that Shelby attend his high school reunion in the town of Medford where he's grown up. The title of the story conjures Greek mythology, but what transpires is Scrooge's nightmare of retribution set in a Strindbergian reality. Ray's high school girlfriends exact a kind of poetic justice that hounds him out of the smug satisfaction of his pleasure principle. The brilliance of the writing lies in the way it insouciantly negotiates a territory that could have been a dream were it not reality -- with nary a touch of narrative or verbal pyrotechnics. The Furies ends as predictably as it began, with Ray losing everything and learning nothing. He hears about his first wife's death from a patient. Then Shelby goes: "She did not divorce him at once. She demanded a house, and he provided it. She asked for severance pay from her job, and got it. They spoke through lawyers, until it was final, and he was alone." The beauty and simplicity are surgical, purgative and well nigh mythical. It takes your breath away.

{This was originally posted to The Screaming Pope, Francis Levy's blog of rants and reactions to contemporary politics, art and culture}

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