Help me find a story
February 7, 2008 9:45 PM   Subscribe

Please help me find the name and author of a short story I read in The New Yorker within the last five years or so. The premise of the story is a teacher at a prep school in Manhattan is brought home by one of his students because she has decided he's the person she is going to marry. Toward the end of the story, the girl's father punches the teacher in the stomach unexpectedly. I believe the story won some awards.
posted by pasici to Media & Arts (25 answers total) 15 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: The Smoker.
posted by wemayfreeze at 9:58 PM on February 7, 2008 [8 favorites]

Damn you, wemayfreeze.
posted by KokuRyu at 10:34 PM on February 7, 2008

That's a really great story. I love AskMefi.
posted by MadamM at 10:50 PM on February 7, 2008

And there's a nice audio version of the story in this Selected Shorts collection. Some day there may even be a movie.
posted by maryh at 11:10 PM on February 7, 2008

Best answer: Thanks for that link, I enjoyed the story. But in case anyone reading this is dissuaded by the spoiler (the father punching the teacher unexpectedly), rest assured it doesn't happen.
posted by Dee Xtrovert at 11:51 PM on February 7, 2008

Response by poster: Thanks, all. MeFi is amazing. And my memory is terrible.....
posted by pasici at 4:22 AM on February 8, 2008

FYI, John Stapleton is the name of a British television presenter.
posted by popcassady at 4:34 AM on February 8, 2008

Thanks, I really enjoyed that. Is there a list of the best short fiction from The New Yorker anywhere?
posted by Magnakai at 4:59 AM on February 8, 2008

I'm pretty sure it turns up in Schickler's novel/short story collection Kissing in Manhattan too.
posted by featherboa at 5:17 AM on February 8, 2008

Oh, that was fantastic. Thank you for bringing it to my attention!
posted by notsnot at 5:19 AM on February 8, 2008

Beware the manatees!
posted by steef at 5:53 AM on February 8, 2008

Why's it called The Smoker?
posted by dobbs at 6:44 AM on February 8, 2008

Agree, gorgeous story.

(And fascinating about the movie possibility, maryh)

Though I half expected the character to reveal it was all part of a movie-reference-saturated lonely dream of romantic heroism. (Possibly a dumb thought...)
posted by Jody Tresidder at 6:53 AM on February 8, 2008

How can anyone read a novel a night? That's a bit preposterous.
posted by sid at 7:19 AM on February 8, 2008

Not totally impossible... I probably read almost the word count of a small novel most days, between the internet, magazines and books.
Thing is, you'd be spreading yourself very narrowly. You wouldn't have a great deal of spare time on top of that.
posted by Magnakai at 7:30 AM on February 8, 2008

Why's it called The Smoker?

It's a reference to boxing matches called smokers the main character participated in as a kid.
posted by jrossi4r at 7:42 AM on February 8, 2008

Wow. That was a long-time favorite of mine, and my first thought when I read the question. I first heard it on the radio, as linked above. Thanks for reminding me of this story.
posted by pzarquon at 10:52 AM on February 8, 2008

I think I heard a clip of this on NPR's Short Story radio program. I'm glad I found the whole thing.
posted by QuarterlyProphet at 11:26 AM on February 8, 2008

Wow, 17 comments after a correct answer. I must read this story.
posted by ORthey at 11:36 AM on February 8, 2008

Why's it called The Smoker?

I wonder if it could also be a sly reference to, "It's no use. He sees her; he starts to shake and cough," from Don't Stand So Close to Me by the Police.
posted by Jorus at 11:38 AM on February 8, 2008

(and by extension or directly to Nabokov's Lolita, though I haven't read it and don't know the exact connection/passage.)
posted by Jorus at 12:15 PM on February 8, 2008

I was disappointed. It was well written, but it would have been a hell of a lot better story if it had been the father who punched him; as it is, it strikes me as juvenile wish-fulfillment. And the boxing bit is ripped off from Ralph Ellison, Chapter 1 of The Invisible Man:
It was in the main ballroom of the leading hotel. When I got there I discovered that it was on the occasion of a smoker, and I was told that since I was to be there anyway I might as well take part in the battle royal to be fought by some of my schoolmates as part of the entertainment. The battle royal came first.

All of the town’s big shots were there in their tuxedoes, wolfing down the buffet foods, drinking beer and whiskey and smoking black cigars. It was a large room with a high ceiling. Chairs were arranged in neat rows around three sides of a portable boxing ring. The fourth side was clear, revealing a gleaming space of polished floor....
I'm sorry, but if you're going to take on Ralph Ellison, you'd better bring more to the bout than this guy does.
posted by languagehat at 12:36 PM on February 8, 2008 [1 favorite]

I really enjoyed that. Thanks pasici and wemayfreeze!
posted by pointystick at 12:37 PM on February 8, 2008

I find myself objecting to how unrealistic Nicole Bonner and the rest of the students are. Are there really 19 year olds who can come up with 7 synonyms for 'bellicose' on the fly or write out the first bits of 'Moby Dick' from memory at the drop of a hat? I mean, I'm sure there are prodigies out there but I couldn't really suspend my disbelief about these wonder girls. They seem to be based more on the author's fantasies rather than real Manhattan prep school girls.

Or am I wrong? Is the standard in Manhattan private schools really that high?
posted by sid at 2:31 PM on February 8, 2008

It's not the lack of realism that gets me, but the tired cliché of the precocious younger woman tempting the well-contained older man. Ugh. Glad I read it, though.

FWIW, I searched the New Yorker archives for "manhattan teacher," date-limited to '00-'08.
posted by wemayfreeze at 3:50 PM on February 8, 2008

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