On A visit by Steven Millhauser
“in the godforsaken middle of nauseating nowhere.”
Before listening to Richard Powers reassuring voice, reading A visit on the New Yorker fiction podcast last year, I had not come across the writings of Steven Millhauser. I am amazed by the utter skill with which this short story is written, the structure of it, how I was lured into this world with all its familiarities yet at the same time so utterly alien. My mind was blown.
In A visit the narrator receives a letter from an old friend, Albert, informing him that he has “taken a wife”. The two men used to be best friends. Nine years have passed since they last met. The narrator is invited to visit Albert and his new wife in their remote home outside of a small town. The invitation causes the narrator to reflect on his own life. Even though he has realised the life he envisioned for himself he is dissatisfied. He reflects on his job, house and that he, at one point, almost married an old girlfriend. The narrator cancels his weekend plans and drives off to visit Albert. As he approaches the house he describes it as “in the godforsaken middle of nauseating nowhere”, the narrator feels discouraged by the surroundings. Albert comes out, he is enthusiastic, and greets the narrator with the phrase “You look just the way you ought to”. I will not disclose what follows next. It is a story that should be experienced without spoilers.
Steven Millhauser (b. August 3, 1943) is an American authour who has composed numerous works of fiction. He won the Pulitzer Prize for fiction in 1997 for his novel Martin Dressler: The Tale of an American Dreamer, and, more recently his short story collection We Others: New and Selected Stories won the Story Prize, it was also a finalist for the 2012 PEN/Faulkner Award.
Listen to Richard Powers joins Deborah Treisman to read and discuss Steven Millhauser’s “A Visit,” from a 1997 issue of the New Yorker via the link below or on the pocket cast app for iphone.