The Squid and the Whale: like New Yorker fiction on screen?

Christian Lorentzen concludes a critical examination of Noah Baumbach’s latest film with some intriguing biographical notes.

The Squid and the Whale made me curious about Baumbach’s father, the writer Jonathan Baumbach. A member of Fiction Collective and head of the creative writing program at Brooklyn College until 2000, the elder Baumbach is an exponent and practitioner of “difficult” fiction. (His son mocks this gently by having Bernard repeatedly tell his sons, “Oh, don’t be difficult.”) I found On the Way to My Father’s Funeral: New and Selected Short Stories, issued last year by Low Fidelity, at St. Mark’s. Parallels to the film were everywhere: “It took him five years to discover that his wife was getting it on with his daughter’s best friend’s father, a man he played poker with on Friday night, a man with a history of failed bluffs.” It’s all in there: broken marriages, father-son rivalries, family competition in sports, and the recognizable landscape of Park Slope, unfaithful lovers lurking around every corner. Not the sort of tropes you’d think would be out of place in the mainstream, but the elder Baumbach tends to deploy them with a metafictional hostility toward traditional storytelling. His son plays the same material straighter, and if his movie was a novel, I wouldn’t be surprised to see an excerpt in the New Yorker.


You might want to subscribe to my free Substack newsletter, Ancestor Trouble, if the name makes intuitive sense to you.