Thursday, February 17, 2011

What He's Poised to Do: Stories, Ben Greenman (2010)

When was the last time you wrote a letter and sent it through the mail? Or, mailed a postcard while away on vacation? These are such extinct thoughts to many of us. Instead, we just email or text our friends and families. Everyone is a phone call or a click away. It seems so timely I would come across this collection of short stories as I find myself made more and more afraid by the future of technology. In a world where a generation is growing up with Kindles (aka Robot Books) and other forms of not having to really read a book, it was nice to find a book lost in an idea or concept that is still so close to our fingertips. But, very far behind us.

Ben Greenman writes a beautiful short story. Greenman knows the importance of word choice. Greenman knows how to edit his sentences to be just as precise as someone would want them to be. In fact, there is something almost dated to the prose of Greenman. Can a contemporary really write with such distance while still maintaining an element of emotion with the characters? It always feels as thought authors are picking one or the other. I am not suggesting Greenman is an incredible short story write. What Greenman is though, is a talented short story builder. Greenman knows what is expected and how to structure.

Of the fourteen stories from the collection, I only found myself really drawn to the three of them. The opening story, 'What He's Poised to Do' is beautiful in how simple and confusing the emotion of falling in love with the idea of another life and another woman. The idea of escape without revenge being a motive. This is one of the shortest stories of the collection, but certainly the strongest.

The second story I adored, 'The Hunter & the Hunted' follows a similar idea as the first story. This is the story of an affair. There is something so charming about the affairs in these stories. And, that they are lived on the other sides of these postcards and letters. This sense of diary and revelation. This sense of secret and exposure. I can't fully form the words to explain what I want to say.

The closing story, 'Her Hand' starts out as a history of the events of a woman's hand. What a truly fresh and welcomed concept for a story. By the stories end, we realize this woman is wife to the man from the first story. We see her sadness from both sides- the cheating husband's view and her own aftermath of the affair. How smart of Greenman to make us wait until the final story. How wise to connect these two stories and give the readers a small sense of closure in a collection with very little closure.

Overall, there may be too much distance in these stories. The one sided aspect of the postcards and the personal journeys we are reading about sort of made me feel too cut off from ever really feeling completely lost into the character. Certainly a very strong collection, but not always the type of fiction I am looking to read.


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