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Quote of the Week: Millhauser’s “Next”

From Steven Millhauser‘s short story “The Next Thing” in the May 2008 issue of Harper’s magazine:

And I seemed to hear, along with the clatter of shopping carts, and voices in the nearby aisles, the dim sounds of a summer night: laughter on a front porch, dishes rattling through an open kitchen window, a shout, a screen door, a thrum of insects.
I turned back into the Under. It was very bright. There was a steady sound of goods dropping into bins, and all up and down the aisles you could see people lifting items out of the bins and putting them in their carts. Then it seemed to me that I was about to understand something, as I stood there watching the shoppers and listening to the unheard sounds of an invisible town.
A Twilight Zone episode tailored for a symposium on New Urbanism, the story tells of a small town where a large superstore is built, and of the social transformations that result as the town and the superstore slowly merge. (To say anything further about what’s meant by “Under” in the excerpt above would give too much away.) “The Next Thing” has echoes of David Foster Wallace’s fascination with everyday economics, George Saunders’s focus on the intersection between simulacrum and closed social systems, and Charles Stross’s extrapolative fantasies.

By Marc Weidenbaum

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