“Miracle Polish,” by Steven Millhauser
Appeared in the New Yorker, November 14th, 2011 (read here), and read by Stuart Dybek for the New Yorker Fiction Podcast, November 1st, 2018 (listen here); also anthologized in The Best American Short Stories 2012 (Heidi Pitlor and Tom Perrotta)
I listened to this story in two parts and in between the parts I forgot that it was in first person. The narrator’s life seems almost too depressing for first person. Millhauser captures a sense of muted despair, a despair too muted, too drenched in mediocrity and banality, even to be satisfyingly painful. At the end, I wonder if his terrible choice even matters; he’s already irrevocably addicted to what the mirrors show him, and things would have ended just as wretchedly if he had deliberately chosen Miracle Polish over Monica.
That repeated “Are you?” is so awful. You just want it to stop! A good scene, though I suppose you can see where it’s going after a certain point.
I was surprised when I saw the story on the page to notice all the commas and comma splices in the first two sentences. I wonder why Millhauser made that choice? Maybe to show the narrator’s impatience?