Posts Categorized: Saïd Sayrafiezadeh

Paranoia – Said Sayrafiezadeh – Humor and Flatness

Paranoia” by Said Sayrafiezadeh is a mix of humor and friendship set to the beat of the buildup for war and the slurring words of the news-cycle.  The characters are in their early twenties and setup as opposites.  Roberto has lived in the United States illegally since high school.  His father and mother went back to Chile when their student visas expired and left Roberto to fend for himself and finish school. Dean on the other hand is a white U.S. citizen living some vague middle class existence.  Where Roberto is impulsive, innocent, and struggling to live, Dean is steady, questioning though still somewhat innocent, and doesn’t seem to have many worries.

The two characters have a great relationship.  At times, it seems like they are more like brothers than friends.  Of course, the inevitable happens, that’s what it does, right?  Inevitably happens.  Roberto is deported.  The deportation feels like the subtext Sayrafiezadeh has woven into the story.  The characters complain about the heat, then the cold.  They talk of war, about invasion.  Troops move out.  All of these things happen, and the characters don’t really care about them.  The weather and the war are of little consequence.

Likewise, Roberto is afraid of being deported, and then he is deported.  Dean discovers this on a visit when Roberto doesn’t answer the door.  Finally, Roberto’s boss beckons Dean into his shop and tells him the news.  The story ends with Dean walking home, and he doesn’t seem to care.  Sure, there’s a reference to Dean’s childhood, and perhaps it represents a yearning for a simpler time, or a return to innocence, but that doesn’t really come through.  If Dean, Roberto’s best friend, doesn’t care, then why should the reader?

Appetite – Saïd Sayrafiezadeh

I’m going to take a different approach with this story than just writing a brief. If you’re a writer, it’s useful to look at what’s working and how it’s working. So, let’s go through some of the scenes and see how they build off one another and progress the plot.

Right away, “Appetite” by Saïd Sayrafiezadeh, starts off with an attention grabbing line. “Things were not going as I had hoped.” This line is expanded in the rest of the paragraph and we learn that the narrator has asked for a raise and been denied. In that first paragraph though, we also learn how tentative the narrator is, and how he lacks confidence. Everything has been played out in his head, except in his head it resulted in his getting the raise. The story has been set. A cook wants a raise, gets denied, is blamed for a couple of messed orders. What happens next?

The next scene starts, “Somewhere in my past, something had gone wrong for me.” This scene is a flashback that explains his current status at a sort of dead end job. He “had dreams of grandeur. [He] didn’t know how to get there, but [he] knew it would work out,” when he was young. Now, as an older man, does that hold true?

The third scene in the story lays out the narrators work life, or perhaps just life, because it seems as if he hasn’t got a life beyond work. “I start at five o’clock and I stop at midnight. On weekends I stop at one o’clock. Sundays the restaurant is closed. Thursdays I have off. On busy nights, the dinner rush begins around seven and goes until eleven.” It allows the reader to see the business of the restaurant and the times when it is slow. Sayrafiezadeh captures this well. As someone who spent summers as a line cook, it was familiar to me and felt accurate. Partway through the scene, we are grounded into a moment. The narrator meets a girl, a waitress. It can’t all be about a guy not getting a raise, right? The arc of the story lifts here. Life improves.

In the fourth scene, we see the narrator after work, at home. He’s watching David Letterman and falls asleep on the couch. This scene shows us the narrators dissatisfaction with his life. Shows how he is not close to his neighbors. Also, there is a moment when some young black boys yell, “What are you looking at, white man?” The narrator has some existential issues with being called a man, with being seen as grown up. He even goes so far as to be “humiliated.” At this point, the story adds in an extra component of race with a brief flashback showing a racist father of a friend. I’m not sure if that’s necessary, but it is a detail of his past that he grew up in a community where racism is obvious. Also, I wonder if the writer is trying to build a comparison between the narrator and the father from the past?

The fifth scene is short and the narrator has woken up in the morning. We see more of his disappointing home life. There is a paragraph length flashback that shows an army recruiter talking to the narrator, and the narrator being more interest in the human contact than in the armed services. This flashback is sandwiched between the narrators exercise routine to give it a reason for being there.

For the sixth scene, the narrator has rebounded and is ready to ask for a raise again. He also sees the “anorexic waitress tallying up her tips for the night,” and that seems to add to his confidence. Again, he is rejected by the manager.

The final scene of the story takes place after work, with the narrator standing outside in the rain. He walks home and is getting soaked. On the way, the waitress shows up in her car, and tells him to get in. Coincidence or did she plan it? The two of them have awkward interactions from having crushes on one another. She tells him, “You’re a funny boy.” The story turns back to the earlier moments of the raise, of not measuring up to grand plans, and being called a man. He asks himself, “When had I crossed that line from boy to man? Whenever it was, the line had been so faint, so subtle, that I had missed it entirely. Maybe if I had been paying closer attention things might have turned out differently for me.” There is more talk between the two of them and she calls him a “pretty boy.” He seems shocked, and can only question her. The story ends with this moment.

What we’re left with is this buildup. Throughout the scenes the narrator is listless, disappointed, nameless, and unrecognized. He’s not a very strong actor in his own life. Finally, when he is noticed by the waitress, he can’t believe it. Someone sees him. I don’t think this ending particularly works. Upon reaching it, I asked, so what? Maybe things will change for the narrator, maybe we are supposed to assume that. It seems like life is changing, but I’m not sold on it. What this story does well with though is the scenes are built upon one another. Also, there is a good use of sparse flashbacks to offer up defining details.