‘To Do’ by Jennifer Egan

On the odd occasion I’ve given writing workshops, ‘To Do’ by Jennifer Egan has been one of my favourite stories to respond to. Even someone who has never written a creative word will have written a list at some point. It is as you might expect in the form of a “to do” list.

Egan’s list starts relatively benignly:

1. Mow lawn
2. Get rid of that fucking hose
3. Wash windows

though the expletive highlights the writer of the list is somewhat exasperated. By “9. Buy Wig” we are paying more attention. The whole story is a joy of small details, and the list writer’s motives become darker. And what a writer can do, of course, is cheat, for at the end we learn that this is a list that isn’t written down – that can’t be written down. 

First published in The Guardian, Summer Fiction Special, 2011 and available to read here

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