ADULTRY, ABORTION AND BETRAYAL – Just another ordinary day
Bernard Berenson was an art critic who died in 1959 but who, before the light faded from his eyes, bemoaned what he considered to be the coming age of mediocrity in America. He’s not alone in his thinking. Philip Roth recently made a similar prediction.
Personally, I take a more optimistic view of America’s direction but must admit that what passes for art sometimes leaves me scratching my head. Take the fictional story I read in the January issue of “Harper’s.” It’s about a 17-year-old Danish boy who is shipped off to America to stay with his uncle. With him, he carries forged papers certifying that he is a fully trained pharmacist like his uncle. His relative welcomes the boy and turns his business over to him while the older man busies himself with cocaine sales in his back room, providing abortions to young girls and sometimes carrying on dalliances with women other than his wife. One day, while he is giving an abortion, the patient’s lover appears and threatens the pharmacist. In retaliation, the man throws acid in the intruder’s face.
Later, he learns his victim has committed suicide and stricken by conscious, he turns in his nephew as the culprit. After all, someone must atone. Unfortunately for him, the boy escapes, returns to the pharmacy long enough to kill his uncle and then flees to Denmark. The father welcomes his son with open arms, and together they decide to set up their own pharmacy with a fresh set of forged papers.
The vacuous and sometimes unbelievable plot is told with one dimensional characters who remark on their evil behavior matter-of-factly the way the Monty Python gang deadpans over a deceased parrot. Perhaps that’s the author’s intention: to make a satire of hideous events with Dick and Jane storytelling. If so, the device works a little but not a lot.
If this piece of fiction represents the best submission sent to “Harper’s,” then Berenson could have a point. There may be cause to worry about where art is going.