Short story: “Johnny’s New Job”

by look i have opinions

“Johnny’s New Job,” by Chris Beckett

From issue #227, March–April 2010, Interzone (order back issues)

Around 2000 words, maybe? Better estimate later

I have a weakness for quick, clever, meanly funny stories like this, the kind that allow author and reader to make relatively easy judgments and then bask in Schadenfreude. Roald Dahl was a master of the form; I seem to recall Dorothy Parker, O. Henry, and Shirley Jackson turning out a few good ones. “Johnny’s New Job” is heavy-handed, like practically all stories of this type, but I honestly don’t think I would like it as much if it weren’t. It’s also a disturbingly accurate satire.

When I find a good clever-and-mean story in an anthology or collection, I always check to see where it first appeared, and usually it was in the New Yorker or some other highly respected publisher of literary fiction—forty-plus years ago, almost never more recently. Frustrating. It’s not that readers crave more depth and less wish fulfillment; it’s just that short stories are no longer regarded as entertainment. Luckily, when I get sick of literary magazines I can still turn to genre magazines, which seem to carry less preconceived ideas about high art, and as a result have a higher fun-to-pointlessness ratio (despite the pointless worldbuilding that occasionally gets tolerated in speculative fiction). I’m pretty impressed with what I’ve seen of Interzone and Crimewave, both put out by TTA press.