Saïd Sayrafiezadeh, Appetite
“Appetite” is a short story by Saïd Sayrafiezadeh, an American-born author of Iranian descent. It was recently published in The New Yorker, and you can read it here. It is, I have to say, a strange little story. The 25 year-old first-person narrator is a cook in a restaurant where he has been working since leaving school. The opening sentence of the story – “Things were not going as I had hoped” – applies, we soon realise, not only to the particular event he is describing, his request for a raise, but to his life in general.
Having been refused the raise, he ruminates on his life and wonders why he is still where he is:
Somewhere in my past, something had gone wrong for me.
He talks about how, at high school graduation, he felt that he “had already been consigned to a life of mediocrity” – because he was one of the indistinguishable five hundred other students and not the valedictorian! A bit of an over-reaction, eh? Anyhow, there are, essentially, only three characters in the story – the narrator, the newly arrived “anorexic waitress” and the manager (who is described – several times – as having a “kind” face, even though he does not give our man a raise, and in fact criticises his grilled cheese sandwiches).
The story is quietly compelling. We want to know why he is the way he is. There are hints that he does not feel “grown up”. In one little anecdote, he describes watching two black boys riding by, one of whom notices him:
“What are you looking at, white man?” he yelled out … I was humiliated, not by the use of “white” but by the use of “man”. He sees me as a man, I thought.
And then remembers a time, when he was eight years old and a friend’s father sent a black boy home, with “Go home, boy”. He provides no further explanation as to why this story from the past comes back to him, but near the end of the story, when the anorexic waitress says “You’re a funny boy”, he wonders
When had I crossed the line from being 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.
The story is full of little anecdotes and digressions whose prime intent is to show his disconnectedness. In fact, there is a slightly absurd air at times – such as the anorexic waitress picking him up on a rainy day just as he has reached home and driving him home after dropping off her other passenger on the other side of town. Many things don’t make logical sense in the story, but perhaps that is perfectly appropriate for a story about how easy it is to get lost in the crowd, to let life pass you by if you don’t do the expected thing of setting a goal and working towards it. Rather than give away the ending which is a little too open for comfort, I will close on a quote from the first paragraph:
Somewhere I had learned that it’s best to put your goals into clear terms, straightforward terms, and that once these goals had been thus stated all would follow accordingly. I think I heard this discussed on television. Or I had read it somewhere. The counsel had seemed wise at the time, and I had determined to remember it if ever an occasion presented itself.
The occasion turns out to be his plan to ask for a raise in his go-nowhere job! Need I say more?