Nicole Krauss “The Young Painters”
Summer Fiction: 20 Under 40
June 28, 2010 “The New Yorker”

Mr. B.I.P. and I read this story together, and when we were done, he asked “Do the short stories you read always leave you with that many questions at the end?” No, they don’t. Nicole Krauss’ leaves you with an inordinate number of questions. It definitely stands out.

And, although you don’t realize at the beginning that some of these questions will remain unanswered for the duration, the reader starts asking them immediately. The story begins with “Four or five years after we got married, Your Honor, S. and I were invited to a dinner party at the home of a German dancer, who was then living in New York.”

Right away you want to know: Who is Your Honor? Why not give her husband’s name in full? Why can’t she remember how many years ago; the German dancer was featured in a solo piece at a theatre (which you learn in the second sentence) so obviously that would have had a clearly defined end-date?

Ultimately, however, I’m willing to guess that the reason the questions hang in the air upon finishing is that they are questions Nicole Krauss is still asking herself as a writer, questions she will likely continue to ask herself throughout her writing career.

Although it’s difficult to discuss the intricacies of the debate she embraces here without spoiling the reader’s discovery, the story considers the overarching question of whether a writer is entitled to use material for a narrative that impacts other people.

What if a writer makes use of material that belongs to their experience (but it still involves other people)? What if they use material in no way connected with a their immediate experience but its being shaped into a narrative still impacts their source of information? Where does the writer’s moral responsibility lie? Who judges?

If I wasn’t already a Nicole Krauss reader, this story would definitely have sealed that reader’s deal.

You can read a short Q&A here. And, if you do follow that link, you’ll learn that “The Young Painters” is an excerpt from her novel Great House, forthcoming in October, so I’m guessing that (a) I simply *must* read this novel, and (b) at least *some* of the questions might get answered.

Have you read this, or anything else, by Nicole Krauss?