April 29, 2013

"The Fragments"

By Joshua Ferris
~3700 words

A man overhears snippets of unrelated conversations, including one that suggests his wife Katy is having an affair.

The unnamed protagonist receives a call that is clearly not intended for him. The lines seem to have gotten crossed (Does that sort of thing happen in the digital age? A reasonable suspension of disbelief, I suppose.) at a most inopportune moment, and he hears his wife's voice saying things to another man such as "…no, he thinks I'm…" and "…just wish… could spend the night…." Convinced that Katy is having an affair, all the while hearing additional fragments of random conversations, the main character sinks into an ever deeper funk and eventually invites strangers into his apartment to cart away his possessions.

The basic question posed by this story—How much can we interpret from a snippet of dialogue?—is an intriguing one. Clearly the main character's answer—A great deal—is the source of his misery, and while we may suspect that he's jumping to conclusions, we also feel ourselves being pulled along with him. The characterization is quite good, but the story's greatest achievement lies in the "fragments," which somehow manage to feel remarkably pedestrian yet remarkably interesting, brimming with a true-to-life quality that cuts across all sociological strata:
He stood at the crosswalk.
"So we're like a fund of funds, because we take a stake, but we can't, you know, we have, what, a ten, maybe twenty per cent—"
"Right," the other guy said.
"Anyway, he's an asshole, but he knows how to make money."
"Best kind of asshole."
He passed two women without coats smoking outside a building.
"Seriously, girl," the one said.
"I know, I know—but can I just tell you?" She drew close and whispered.
After work, he went to the gym. He sat down in the locker room and was removing his shoes as two guys he knew by sight were on their way out.
"But not female masturbation, just male masturbation."
"So you fap yourself?"
"But just dudes. The word for female's like… no, I don't remember."
My one objection is to the ending, when the story veers into the wife's point of view, breaking the spell created by the fragments, all of which are filtered through the main character's perspective.

Despite the ending, "The Fragments" gets high marks for its thought-provoking premise and compelling language.


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