Thursday, September 16, 2021

Men Without Women

This short story has it all -- genetic genealogy, ultra high net worth physics quant banker, stripper, cop, marriage, family, New Yorker writer. It's fiction, but based on real characters and stories. 

There is an audio version, read by the author, at the link.
Satellites by Rebecca Curtis (The New Yorker July 5, 2021) 
My husband and Tony were anxiety-ridden workaholics who’d focussed, from a young age, on earning cash. Tony wanted enough for a good life; Conor, enough to feel safe. They were fifty-six years old, though Conor looked forty-five and Tony thirty-five. They were meticulous, but owing to oversights they’d each had five kids by four women. They were two nerds from New Hampshire. ... 
His ancestors, he told me, had founded America. He’d started working at age twelve, as a farmhand, and eventually acquired a Ph.D. in quantum physics from Harvard, then served for decades as the “head quant” at a world-renowned investment bank. But he wasn’t smart enough to be skeptical when go-go dancers said, Don’t worry, I’m on the pill. ... 
After high school, Tony turned down a scholarship to the University of New Hampshire. He wanted to work. He did active duty in the Marines for eight years, then served in the Air National Guard for twenty while working as a cop. Now he collected his police pension and, for fun, drove a delivery truck. 
Conor smiled. By the way, he said, had Tony ever done 23andMe or 
Tony squinted. Ancestry. Sinead bought them kits for his birthday. Why? 
Conor peered up at Jupiter, approaching Saturn for the great conjunction, and the murky dimmer stars. I studied shuttered restaurants. A few bars had created outdoor dining rooms and were busy; the 7-Eleven was dark, but the ever-glowing “Fortune Teller!” sign on the adjacent cottage was lit. 
No reason, Conor said. Had Tony, he asked, opted into his family DNA tree, to see his matches who’d already done Ancestry? Or elected to receive text alerts whenever some new supposed relative signed on? 
Tony walked swiftly. Nah, he said. He’d done Ancestry to make Sinead happy. He shrugged. She’d made their accounts, he said. She probably opted him in; he wasn’t sure. 
When we got home, Tony’s phone had twenty missed calls. 

Men Without Women, Ernest Hemingway 1927. "Hemingway begins to examine the themes that would occupy his later works: the casualties of war, the often uneasy relationship between men and women, ..."

Rebecca Curtis interview
In “Satellites,” your story in the Fiction Issue, a woman and her husband, a retired banker, host the husband’s friend at their Jersey-shore mansion. The woman is a frustrated writer, and, to inspire her, her husband, Conor, asks the friend, Tony, a retired police officer, to tell her cop stories. How would you describe the woman’s views of these two men? 
The narrator is awed by how smart Tony and her husband are, and by how hard they work. She’s impressed that they’ve read so much and educated themselves about so many diverse topics while performing demanding and often unpleasant jobs, and by the fact that they’re two of the most generous, kind people she knows. She appreciates that they’ve maintained lifelong friendships, something that she wishes she’d done herself. She doesn’t agree with all their political ideas. Earlier in her life, she believed that, one, bankers cared about money but not about art, literature, world hunger, etc.; and, two, that anyone who supported Trumpish policies (or who voted for anyone like Trump) must be an ignorant jerk. Meeting her husband (and Tony) punctured those beliefs. 
The narrator views herself as the proverbial grasshopper: someone—possibly frivolous, vapid, and solipsistic—who wants to enjoy her life, sing, dance, make “art,” while working various hip-but-not-very-remunerative jobs to pay rent, never truly planning for winter. Tony and Conor are ants: anxious, alert to the dangers the world can pose, doing difficult (and sneered-upon) jobs diligently so they’ll be protected when scarcity comes. The narrator aspires to be more ant-like while remaining a grasshopper. 
Tony and Conor are, in some ways, obsessed with genetics and lineage—they discuss and bloodlines—but their own families (they each have five children by four women) are somewhat of a disappointment, or even an afterthought, to them. Can you say a little about that tension? 
Conor and Tony suffer because—in several cases—they don’t have the ability to see their children. In the case of divorce, a time-sharing agreement may be in place, but, if the mother has principal custody and won’t permit the father’s visits, what can the father do? Possession sometimes is nine-tenths of the law. Hiring lawyers and going to court to try to force a mother who won’t honor custody agreements to do so requires copious energy, oodles of spare time, and a small fortune. Conor and Tony care deeply about their children, but they’ve lost control—in some cases, of seeing their kids, and, in others, of influencing them. They may feel powerless.

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