A life-affirming little theft

Call Jennifer Egan’s A Visit From the Goon Squad a collection of interrelated short stories. Or call it a novel, if you like. The book has won several prestigious awards, so Egan might not care what you call it. She read Wednesday night at Rutgers-Camden from the book’s opening story, or chapter, called “Found Objects,” about a New York City woman named Sasha who has a one-night stand with a man named Alex. Sasha finds time to indulge her ruling compulsion, kleptomania, when Alex uses her bathroom, and this is where Egan conjures up the sort of little surprise that makes short fiction worth reading:

… She knelt on the floor and slipped his wallet from his pants pocket and opened it, her heart firing with a sudden pressure. It was a plain black wallet, worn to gray along the edges. Rapidly she flicked among its contents: a debit card, a work ID, a gym card. In a side pocket, a faded picture of two boys and a girl in braces, squinting on a beach. A sports team in yellow uniforms, heads so small she couldn’t tell if one of them belonged to Alex. From among these dog-eared photos, a scrap of binder paper dropped into Sasha’s lap. It looked very old, the edges torn, the pale-blue lines rubbed almost away. Sasha unfolded it and saw written, in blunt pencil, “I BELIEVE IN YOU.” She froze, staring at the words. They seemed to tunnel toward her from their meagre scrap, bringing a flush of embarrassment for Alex, who’d kept this disintegrating tribute in his disintegrating wallet, and then shame at herself for having looked at it. She was faintly aware of the faucet being turned on, and of the need to move quickly. Hastily, mechanically, she reassembled the wallet, keeping the slip of paper in her hand. I’m just going to hold this, she was aware of telling herself as she tucked the wallet back into Alex’s pocket. I’ll put it back later; he probably doesn’t remember it’s in there. I’ll actually be doing him a favor by getting it out of the way before someone finds it. I’ll say, Hey, I noticed this on the rug, is it yours? And he’ll say, That? I’ve never seen it before—it must be yours, Sasha. And maybe that’s true. Maybe someone gave it to me years ago, and I forgot…

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1 Response to A life-affirming little theft

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