Anthony Marra, “The Tell-Tale Heart” (McSweeney’s 49)


Anthony Marra’s “The Tell-Tale Heart” follows closely Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Tell-Tale Heart,” all within the spirit of McSweeney’s 49’s cover stories theme.

A man confesses before a judge how he murdered his roommate, Richard. He does it, he says, to prove that he is not insane and thus deny the claim his own defense attorney is making.

He had been spying on his roommate, who had been taking pictures of himself in the bathroom for Tinder. The narrator had become more intrusive each night—and added a kitchen knife behind his back the final night. When he thinks Richard spotted him and took a picture of him, he lunges at Richard, stabs him to death, cleans everything up, and “pried open the living floorboards and entombed him within the dusty cavity” (p. 74).

Then a date shows up, asking to see Richard. As she waits in the living room, messaging Richard, Richard’s phone starts buzzing, like a heartbeat. The narrator calls him, and the phone buzzes again, driving the narrator nearly insane. The narrator opens up the floorboards and gives the woman Richard’s phone. She promptly calls the police.

Using the phone as the thumping heart was clever, but the strength of the story lies in the narrator’s voice—which doesn’t mean it’s a likable voice. It’s not. Hints of psychological turmoil bubble up frequently in the person’s nonstop monologue, which reads like a maniacal, caffeinated version of Socrates’s speech at his trial, as captured by Plato’s Apology.

This quote about life mediated by social media is well put: “Every experience he dutifully engraved via tweet, post, or status in the marbled memory of the cloud. Reality was only visible to Richard at 326 ppi” (p. 73).

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