‘Pnin’ by Vladimir Nabokov

His complete surrender to his own merriment would prove irresistible…with abrupt barks of clockwork hilarity coming from Charles, and a dazzling flow of unsuspected lovely laughter transfiguring Josephine, who was not pretty, while Eileen, who was, dissolved in a jelly of unbecoming giggles.

These lines, in their richness, flow and descriptive sleight of hand, the laughter, along with the prettiness of one girl conservatively used to describe the lack-of of the other, became something to aspire to in the realm of imagery and description. The story as a whole presents a challenge to the usual narrative construction, in that the collusive ‘we’ narration at the beginning, becomes an ‘I’ around halfway through the story. This is discussed in the podcast.

First published as a short story in The New Yorker, 1953. Later published as the first chapter of the novel, Pnin. You can listen to the short story on The New Yorker podcast here

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