Ben Greenman, What He’s Poised To Do: Stories — July 9, 2010

Ben Greenman, What He’s Poised To Do: Stories

Oil painting of a woman in negligee and knee-high stockings or boots, looking away from the camera toward a table lamp situated on a night-table. You can't see it from this photo, but the image continues over the spine and onto the back cover of the book; on the back cover, we see a man in a somewhat rumpled suit with a turned-down mouth. The woman sits on a rumpled bed, and the man stands on the bed's other side; looks like he's on his way out after a hotel-room assignation

Reading this collection of short stories, I felt a lot like John Mayer narrating a baseball game that he didn’t understand. This was a series of short stories that ended with my saying, “Aaaaand *that* happened!” One of them, for instance, features characters who have — yes, right — moved to the moon. But it’s like … they haven’t *really* moved to the moon. Or maybe they have, but the moon behaves a lot like Nebraska. So … that happened.

Most every story involves people at some emotional distance from their loved ones. There’s the husband away on an extended business trip and listlessly sleeping around while he’s there; he tries to have a phone conversation with his wife, but both of them burst into tears almost immediately. So they settle for writing letters or postcards to one another. That’s how the book works in general: people write letters to one another that sound listless, distant, and a little broken. Sometimes people are so distant from one another that all they can manage is a postcard.

But then sometimes the stories are just plain funny. A guy and his wife head off to a cottage for a romantic getaway; the guy is overwhelmed by the beauty of his surroundings, so he flounces about sniffing honeysuckle and taking in the natural whateverwhatever of it all. Meanwhile his wife is dragging their luggage along to the cottage, glaring at him. He thinks he knows what she means by that glare: sex is on. He rushes up to the bedroom of their cottage, leaving her to deal with the luggage. He throws the bedroom window open, takes in the perfection of the natural scene, gets naked, and reclines upon the bed to await the inevitable carnality.

The fellow who reviewed [book: What He’s Poised To Do] for The Bookslut was overwhelmed. He had the same experience with this book that I had with Nabokov’s [book: Lolita]: he was so affected by it that he had to step away often, take a breath, and think about what he’d just read. I did not feel that way. It took me a couple hours to tear through [book: What He’s Poised To Do] — not wasted hours, certainly, but basically ho-hum hours. Greenman’s characters are so beaten down by life, and (except for one, an African-American man who revisits his roots in Malawi in the late 60s) have such flat affects, that I suspect it would be hard for [book: What He’s Poised To Do] to quicken anyone’s pulse.