The New Yorker Reader: “Waiting,” by Amos Oz

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12/04/2008 1:00 PM |

Missing Persons, Duran Duran.

“But on Fridays at noon everything shut down for the day, and the residents took siestas behind closed shutters,” which is the last line of the first paragraph, is Oz’s semicredible set-up for the obviously allegorical atmosphere of the story that follows.

Eventually, his wife having left a cryptic note and nowhere to be seen, our protagonist wanders the streets and eventually buildings of an entirely deserted town (far more deserted than the rationale could explain, if we were being picky about it; but it’s so obviously just an excuse that we won’t begrudge it). As the buildings get, in Oz’s descriptions, older and more abandoned and boarded-up — and the yards more weedy and rusted — so the fog drops lower and lower, and it becomes clear that this guy is the only one left. All he has for company is a distinctly postapocalyptic mongrel stray dog.

So this is a distinctly existential treatment of an apparent domestic falling-out, but of course it goes deeper than that. Given the opening paragraph’s emphasis on the changes in the life of the town, and the protagonist’s position as a diligent municipal official of mild importance, I wonder if this isn’t a metaphor about the Israeli government, self-absorbed, petty and paralyzed as the rest of the country leaves it behind?

Our hero “walked pitched forward with a stubborn gait, as if he were fighting a strong headwind,” as we’re told early and reminded often — there he is, just plowing onwards. Meanwhile, it’s Friday night, and everyone else seems to be preparing for “Queen Sabbath” as one neighbor (early on, when they’re still in evidence) says — something is coming, and everybody else is preparing, but he’s just keeping busy, and… waiting. (Title of the story! Everybody drink!)