Friday, January 15, 2010


by Jennifer Egan

Every once in a while, I read a short story and partway through it come to the realization that it is just about perfect. This is one of those stories.

Egan gives us a tale set on safari in Kenya. Lou is a divorced record executive, who has taken his two children, Charlie (Charlene, 14) and Rolph (11) on this trip, along with his girlfriend Mindy (just into her twenties), and a strange entourage of musicians, an actor, and his travel agent.

Egan packs the story with complex relationships: Lou and Mindy have not been a couple for long; Rolph worships and despises his father in equal measure; Charlie is trying to become Charlene, a grown-up in both her own eyes and her father's. Mindy catches the eye of Albert, an employee of the safari company. Toss into this mix some amusing side characters, like the old birdwatching ladies and the obvious-stating actor, along with a good lion mauling, and you have the makings for a great story.

What makes this piece perfect though, is the way in which, towards the end of the tale, Egan jumps through the rest of the main characters' lives, demonstrating how this trip was such a turning point for each of them. It's a powerful and emotionally resonant piece of work.

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