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We live in an age of fervent, misguided, conspiratorial belief. Fluoridated drinking water is poisonous. Michelle Obama was born a man. There are incriminating references to “pizza” in John Podesta’s e-mails. We might try to buy our way out: with yoga, green tea, reusable grocery bags, or a two-week fast in Bavaria. But regardless, ideology “proliferates … as merchandise,” as Jia Tolentino has written. “We can buy anything that suits us and nothing that we really need.”
“The Yard Boy” is Joy Williams’ answer to 2016, though it was published in The Paris Review’s Winter 1977 issue. It’s a story about a true believer: a self-professed spiritual materialist who does not understand this term to be derisive, a label for those who would seek spirituality through consumerism or ego. He’s a zealot entrapped by platitudes with a New Age aura (“nothing is more obvious than the hidden” or “the moon can shine in one hundred different bowls”). His quest to live “in the Now” unravels his life. Read More