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April 10, 2008

'The Lie' — by T. Coraghessan Boyle


It's a new story by a Jedi Master of the form, in the latest (April 14, 2008) issue of the New Yorker.

The link is live for now so you can read it free and even print it out for later.

Do that.

Because a live link can disappear in a heartbeat and then all you'll have is my word for it that this is a superb work, magnificent in how it concentrates the horror — yes, the horror — of work in so few elegantly phrased paragraphs.

Read it and weep.

It brought back awful memories of watching the clock as minute by minute, hour by hour, day by day my life slipped away into nothingness, with no future but more of the same.

Warning: If you're on the verge of quitting and read it, this could be the straw.

You know the one.

It broke the camel's back.

That's why they call it "the last...."

Fair warning.

Excerpts follow.

I’d used up all my sick days and the two personal days they allowed us, but when the alarm went off and the baby started squalling and my wife threw back the covers to totter off to the bathroom in a hobbled two-legged trot, I knew I wasn’t going in to work. It was as if a black shroud had been pulled over my face: my eyes were open but I couldn’t see.

As soon as I hung up, I felt as if I’d been pumped full of helium, giddy with it, rising right out of my seat, but then the slow seepage of guilt, dread, and fear started in, drip by drip, like bile leaking out of a liver gone bad.

I had the whole day in front of me. I could do anything. Go anywhere. An hour ago it was sleep I wanted. Now it was something else. A pulse of excitement, the promise of illicit thrills, started up in my stomach.

I drove down Ventura Boulevard in the opposite direction from the bulk of the commuters. They were stalled at the lights, a single driver in every car, the cars themselves like steel shells they’d extruded to contain their resentments. They were going to work. I wasn’t.

That was the thing about taking a day off, the way the time reconfigured itself and how you couldn’t help comparing any given moment with what you’d be doing at work. At work, I wouldn’t have eaten yet, wouldn’t even have reached the coffee break—Jim, stop! No, no!—and my eyelids would have weighed a hundred tons each.

It was Thursday. Two more days to the weekend. If I could make it to the weekend, I was sure that by Monday, Monday at the latest, whatever was wrong with me, this feeling of anger, hopelessness, turmoil, whatever it was, would be gone. Just a break. I just needed a break, that was all.

I was on my second, or maybe my third, when the place began to fill up and I realized, with a stab of happiness, that this must be an after-work hangout, with a prescribed happy hour and some sort of comestibles served up gratis on a heated tray. I’d been wrapped up in my grief, a grief that was all for myself, for the fact that I was twenty-six years old and going nowhere, with a baby to take care of and a wife in the process of flogging a law degree and changing her name because she wasn’t who she used to be, and now suddenly I’d come awake.

April 10, 2008 at 04:01 PM | Permalink


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