What You Do Out Here, When You’re Alone – Philipp Meyer – Review

Randomly, I saved the best for last.  “What You Do Out Here, When You’re Alone” by Philipp Meyer is the most complete short story from this issue.

It’s centered around a man named Max who moves with his family to a suburban development outside of Houston called the Oaks.  Originally, the family lived in Huntsville, but as Max’s business as a Porsche mechanic became more successful, his wife felt a need to move up and out of Huntsville.  Personally, that is not much of a surprise.  Huntsville, at most, is a depressing Texas town known predominantly for being the execution capital of the United States.

With that context almost immediately filled in at the beginning, and then referenced throughout the story, we learn that there has been an Accident involving Max and Lilli’s son.  We don’t actually learn what occurs until much later, and Meyer does a good job of building up the suspense.  What happened to Harley (the son)?  Will he come back?  What the accident does is upset Max and Lilli’s marriage.  They’ve been unhappy since moving, and deeper problems which have been in the background for years begin to surface.

There is something dream-like about Max.  Looking at the title, you get a sense of that.  Max is adrift in his success, and family.  He seems representative of a number of men who have focused on areas of their lives and drifted from what they wanted to do.  He gets married young.  Has a baby.  Needs to work.  In order to provide for others, he’s stopped providing for himself.

“What You Do Out Here, When You’re Alone” speaks to that part of American manhood and fatherhood.  In the midst of realizing how lonely and distant he is, Max has to decide what he wants next out of life.  Does he go back to the way things were, or does he find a new frame of life to fill his view of the Texas skies?

Q&A with Philipp Meyer.

More stories from “20 Under 40.”

3 thoughts on “What You Do Out Here, When You’re Alone – Philipp Meyer – Review”

  1. >People really seem to like this story, which makes me sad, since it's the boring, meditative, old-school type of fiction writing that I was really hoping would go out of style (in favor of witty culture ala Shytengart/Saunders [or even Ferris], more interesting premises [C. E. Morgan's story], or inventive stuff [Foer]). But I can see why people like it, even if I find the whole thing a distraction.

  2. >I don't think meditative equals boring. It's definitely a conventional short story, but it works well. When held against some of the other work in this publicity stunt of 20 under 40, it comes across as more complete.On a different Philipp Meyer note, I suggest staying away from American Rust. I went into that novel having liked this story, but found the novel a waste of time.How do you find this story to be a distraction?

  3. >I wrote a bit more about the distraction element of the story on my site (http://thatsoundscool.blogspot.com/), but basically, for a story that's about a father's loss, it spends a great deal of time padding out the story with details that add nothing to that context–they only make it seem like there's something more to the narrative. The stuff with his neighbor, with the garden–it all just made me shrug. Also, the classic literalism of everything–in which there's no deeper surface, things are exactly as they appear, but everything is weighted with meaning–is something that just anguishes me.But I recognize that's a personal affliction.

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