We love Charles Yu’s short deeply meta stories, and he’s just published a new one in this week’s edition of The New Yorker. It’s a brilliant, moving fairy tale that you don’t want to miss.
The story starts with a man talking to his therapist, who asks him to tell her a story as he’s working through his issues. In typical Yu fashion, the story takes some interesting turns, as the man spins out a fantastical story about his life and relationships.
Here’s how it begins:
Once upon a time, there was a man whose therapist thought it would be a good idea for the man to work through some stuff by telling a story about that stuff.
The man lived in a one-bedroom efficiency cottage all by himself, in a sort of dicey part of town. One day, the man woke up and realized that this was pretty much it for him. It wasn’t terrible. But it wasn’t great, either. And not likely to improve. The man was smart enough to realize this, yet not quite smart enough to do anything about it. He lived out the rest of his days and eventually died. The end. Happy now?
The man could see that his therapist was not amused.
A rather unsatisfactory ending, the therapist opined, and suggested that the man could do better. The man thought, Is she really serious about this? But he didn’t say anything out loud. The man was not convinced that he needed to be talking to the therapist at all, but he had tried so many other things (potions, spells, witches), and spent so much of his copper and silver, with absolutely nothing to show for it, that he figured why the hell not.
So how do I do this? he asked.
Why don’t you start again? the therapist replied. And, instead of rushing to the end, try to focus on the details.