Tom Paine’s “Will You Say Something, Monsieur Eliot?”

This story can be found in the collection Scar Vegas and Other Stories. It moves fast – Eliot's molars shatter in the fourth sentence. A nautical tale by an author who was briefly a Marine, it reads rather like a story by Robert Stone.

And it's a story that makes you feel guilty about Haiti, which is why I bring it up today. Haitian earthquake news here.

“The world loves me,” Eliot believes. He's an American, he is America, living life to the full, and it takes a shipwreck for him to find himself in a situation at all resembling normal life for the poor of Haiti.

He's rescued by Haitian refugees, who are themselves lost at sea. Their spokesman Alphonse says, “Because you are American, we are saved,” but it doesn't turn out that way.

"Will You Say Something, Monsieur Eliot?" really blew me away when I first read it in the “New Yorker” back in 1994. It's a story that makes you think about the difference between what a disaster means in one country as opposed to another. “Some countries are just not lucky,” as Joel Dreyfuss notes.

Interviewed by Robert Birnbaum a few years back, Tom Paine had some interesting comments about what it's like being a writer nowadays.

5 thoughts on “Tom Paine’s “Will You Say Something, Monsieur Eliot?””

  1. Hello… I am looking for an old "friend" who used to be in the Army stationed at Ft. Drum, NY named James Warner. Are you possibly him? Thanks in advance… I know this is not the place to ask, but I had no other way to contact you to ask. 🙂

  2. Why does Eliot not try to rescue Alphonse and the others at the end of the story? Is the implication that now he's attached to the "plastic nipple" of the U.S. he is infantile and does not think of helping anyone else?

    Text "HAITI" to "90999" and a donation of $10 will be given automatically to the Red Cross to help with relief efforts, charged to your cell phone bill. http://www.state.gov/p/wha/ci/ha/index.htm

  3. How is Eliot supposed to help? At the end of the day he has not the courage "to say something", nothing that could help the Haitian refugees. This text is not telling a story about a character who sees, experiences iniquitousness and re-thinks his mind.

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