“Found Objects” by Jennifer Egan

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Full story here, courtesy of The New Yorker

First sentence: “It began the usual way, in the bathroom of the Lassimo Hotel.”

Characterization: “He wore funky sweaters and let her call him Coz, but he was old-school inscrutable, to the point where Sasha couldn’t tell if he was gay or straight, if he’d written famous books or if (as she sometimes suspected) he was one of those escaped cons who impersonate surgeons and wind up leaving their operating tools inside people’s skulls.”

Sasha is a kleptomaniac. Whenever the opportunity presents itself, she lifts items from other people, items usually that aren’t worth anything or have any significance to Sasha herself: a child’s scarf, pens, sunglasses, “twenty-eight bars of soap.” She knows it’s wrong, and she’s seeking help from a therapist (Coz). “Found Objects” is a cleverly written story-within-a-story. Sasha is telling Coz about a wallet she stole, and Egan takes us directly into that scene, introducing readers to several other minor, but well crafted, characters.

Thinking it through:

Did you like Sasha? This was one of the stories I read for my short fiction class, and when the professor asked this question, there was a pause – no one in the class was sure how to feel about her. But she’s an intriguing character, and possibly sympathetic since she’s going to therapy.

It begs the question, do characters need to be likable for readers to like the story? 

“Found Objects” was originally published in The New Yorker in 2007, but it appears as the first chapter of Egan’s 2010 novel, A Visit from the Goon Squad. I read the novel over the summer and was intrigued by its structure. It’s 13 chapters, revolving around a number of troubled characters whose paths intersect in interesting ways throughout the novel. It jumps forward in time, and also reaches back to the sixties, as each chapter takes up the perspective of a different character at various points in their lives. It’s an excellent display of Egan’s mastery of characterization, and it earned her a Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in 2011. If you enjoy “Found Objects” it’s definitely worth a read.

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