David Bezmozgis’ “The Train of Their Departure”

by Jess

A year ago, I complained about the general low quality of the fiction in The New Yorker.  I almost invariably am disappointed.  But the subscription was a birthday gift some years ago and another issue continues to arrive at my door month after month, and as I am not one to let a magazine go to waste, I continue reading and being disappointed, or if not disappointed then just not terribly impressed.

Until, that is, this whole 20 Under 40 fiction series began.  I’ve been pleased as punch with some of the selections, many of which I’ve shared with you here.  The most recent issue not only has a story I really enjoyed, David Bezmozgis’ “The Train of Their Departure,” but there’s also a poem that’s actually dynamic and engaging, Dana Goodyear’s “Dormant.”  That’s a twofer, and you surely don’t see that very often.

I love the austerity of Bezmozgis’ writing.  Here’s a great moment from “The Train”:

And, with Polina sitting in his kitchen, it occurred to him that life, which he’d treated as a pastime, and which he’d thought he could yet outdistance, had finally caught up with him. And he discovered, much as he’d suspected, that once life caught up with you, you could never quite shake it again. It endeavored to hobble you with greater and greater frequency. How you managed to remain upright became your style, who you were.

Bezmozgis speaks of the inspiration for the piece, in his Q&A.  He says, “I wanted to write about the peculiarities and contradictions of romantic life in the Soviet Union. I was six when I left the Soviet Union, so I never experienced this life, but I grew up around many people who did. The Soviet Union seems to exist in the American imagination as a dour place, when it wasn’t like that at all. Except when it was.”

Brilliant.  Check him out.