T.C. Boyle’s “The Night of the Satellite” originally appeared in The New Yorker magazine in April 2013. In addition it is part of the short story compilation titled The Best American Short Stories of 2014 edited by Jennifer Egan – which is where I came across it.
The story is about a couple of graduate students, Paul and Mallory, who have somehow drifted through life to the point that they now seem to have become permanent grad students. They teach a little, and they take classes, all the while building up their student loan debt and grabbing whatever financial aide they can find along the way. Finding actual jobs to support themselves, however, never crosses either of their minds. But they are happy enough, they think, and are enjoying the three-week break between summer school and the beginning of the new fall semester.
And then it happens. On the way to visit friends who live on a farm, Paul and Mallory come across a young couple having what appears to be a “lovers quarrel” in the middle of an out-of-the-way blacktop road. Mallory wants to intervene; Paul does not. When Paul and Mallory arrive at the nearby farm, Paul fully expects that he will set eyes on neither member of the arguing couple ever again.
Not in this short story, Paul. Not. Gonna. Happen.
More than 24 hours later Paul and Mallory are still at each other’s throats, Paul has been struck by a tiny bit of space junk, and Mallory has done something he may never be able to forgive.
Is somebody up there trying to tell him something?
“The Night of the Satellite” is an entertaining short story that Boyle manages to make believable without having many pages in which to develop his several characters. The story’s imagery, if I am reading it correctly, is perhaps a little on the obvious side. Does the exploding space satellite, for instance, represent Paul’s exploding relationship with Mallory? And does having a bit of satellite debris strike him (at 3200 to 1 odds) really mean that someone is trying to get his attention and that he needs to listen up? Obvious or not, I like the story and believe it is entirely worthy of both publications.