Short Story Day Seventeen – The Dark Arts

17. The Dark Arts
Ben Marcus

This is day Seventeen of my Month of Short Stories – a story a day for June.

I’m afraid that Ben Marcus is a writer that I knew nothing about. Sorry. There is so much great stuff and I have to earn a living… and I have to ride my bicycle… and there’s my kids… and sometimes I have to do nothing at all. So I picked today’s story because… well, because it is in the New Yorker. It has the stamp of… the stamp of the New Yorker. It has made it past the gatekeepers.

It’s father’s day today, and I chose to eat lunch at a small Peruvian bakery/restaurant near where Arapaho road makes this funny little jump to the left, right across Highway 75 – an inexpensive area where family owned spots from many places in the world tend to settle. I had the ceviche with corn and sweet potato.

Then I needed about twenty miles on my bike to keep up with my annual goal, so I dropped the story from the New Yorker web site onto my Kindle and headed out. I stopped at my little bench in the Spring Creek bottomland woods (the place I saw the snake) to rest, drink a water bottle, and read the story.

The writing was greatness – little bits of genius strung across the page. The story was very dark – an American young person in Germany on a quest for a cure. He has an autoimmune disease – there is quite a bit of mystery in the story over exactly what is wrong, but I think the protagonist has it right when he says, “An allergy to himself was more like it.” Whether it is autoimmune, or a brain tumor, or that he has finally given up on himself – it doesn’t really matter. It is a lonely doom.

Ben Marcus has a book of short stories coming out – Leaving the Sea – it is now on the list… even though the list is getting too long. Do I have enough time to finish? Of course not – it is getting longer faster than I’m checking them off – and I’m getting older even faster than that.

The nice thing about a story in the New Yorker is that plenty of people have something to say. Be careful though – read the story first… a lot of these folks aren’t as careful about giving away the goodies.


It was Father’s Day, and me being who I am – I could not help but be affected by a story behind the story. Julian is in Europe thanks to funds sent to him by his father. The story implies that this money does not come easily. His mother is gone. There is a conversation between Julian and his father over the phone where he is asking for more money. His father is full of hope – or at least he pretends to be. Julian says, “He should never, until the very second he died, stop knowing that he had a father who would do anything for him. What a crime to forget this. He was a criminal if he ever stopped thinking this for even a minute.”

This broke my heart. I can see his father emptying his 401k, mortgaging the family house, taking a second job on the weekends. I can see him making pancakes that will never be eaten. I can see him doing what needs to be done. I’m sure he has doubts, regrets, fears, the same feelings of doom that are overwhelming Julian. But still he soldiers on, smiling as best he can, doing what needs to be done.

What more can we hope for?

Did everyone else, he wondered, feel listless, strange, anxious, dull, scared—you could pretty much go shopping from a list of adjectives—and did other people just clench their jaws and endure it, without running to the doctor, as he did, again and again?
—-from The Dark Arts, by Ben Marcus

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