Review from staffer Oona Winners
I’ve heard a lot of good things about the fiction that The New Yorker includes in their weekly editions, but until last December I had not actually read a piece from it. Now that I finally have, I understand the hype. The story I read, called “The Hotel” by author Anne Enright is in the November 6th issue of The New Yorker. It is about a woman who misses her flight and is referred to a hotel that does not actually exist, at least not in the way she expected it to. Although the writing itself is good, I mainly liked this piece because it feels very honest to the experience of traveling and feeling lost and tired and helpless. I also think the story is a metaphor for the hopeless side of life.
The writing in “The Hotel” is straightforward but descriptive. Enright does not spend too long on a single description, but she takes care to paint a picture for the reader. I think the most important aspect of a writing piece, whether it be poetry or prose, fiction or nonfiction, is it’s ability to wrap the reader up in the images being described so that they can’t help visualizing what is written. Enright does this in “The Hotel”; I can’t help seeing the grimy people waiting in line or hearing the click of the main character’s luggage as she walks down the airport hallway.
I often dislike reading short stories, especially recently written ones, because they don’t feel relatable. Each one seems to be trying to outdo the next with a strange plot and even stranger language. I completely believe that there is a need for experimental fiction, but I find myself missing the simpler stories. I miss reading about realistic characters in realistic situations feeling realistic emotions. Although the reality at the ending of “The Hotel” feels a bit distorted, the entire story feels honest and relatable. It doesn’t gloss over the discomfort of traveling or the confusion of being lost.
When I’m traveling, all I want is the security that at the end of the commute there will be somewhere warm, clean, and safe for me to end up. I have been on countless flights over the years, and have only encountered a problem once, when my connecting flight had been delayed due to a storm. I don’t remember it well since I was seven, but I do remember feeling panicked for the first half hour or so, until my mom figured the whole situation out. After I found out that we were being given a hotel, complimentary of the airline, I was excited. I got to wear an oversized shirt as a pajama, watch TV, and sleep in a warm bed with too many pillows.
This experience made me realize the importance of having a place to end up, and “The Hotel” reaffirmed that importance. Without a destination, it’s almost impossible to not feel lost. Place gives me a purpose. Sometimes I’ll need to go for a walk, just to get out of the house, and I’ll have nowhere to go. I’ve gotten in the habit of walking to the park because it feels like more of a destination than wandering the streets. It makes me wonder about myself, and other people, because this applies to people other than just me. Why do we need a destination? Is there something to be gained from wandering? This connects to the life as well: so many people have a plan for how their life is going to go before they are even out of high school. We are conditioned, at least in America, to follow a set course in our life. This means attending college directly after high school, getting a high paying job out of college, and then retiring with enough money to hopefully live off until we die. But that trajectory does not feel fulfilling to many people, including me.
In “The Hotel” the main character ends up somewhere that she thought was a hotel, but turns out to be some kind of warehouse. It is not clean, it does not feel safe, and the people are not friendly. She doesn’t even know what country she is in. And maybe her loss of direction wouldn’t be so bad if she knew that she would eventually find her way. But she realizes that there is not a way to find. The end is always the same. That is why “The Hotel” is a metaphor for the bleakest side of life. It focuses on the hopelessness of trying to find one’s path, because all the paths end in the same place: death. And this is where my biggest problem with the story lies. There is already so much sadness that has been written about, I think adding to it in such a hopeless way is not helpful to anyone. Instead of thinking that life is pointless because it is finite, I like to think that life has to be made meaningful because of the same reason.