Sunday, January 24, 2021

The Husband

 There are people who like ice skating, not because of the points a skater may earn, but because of the aesthetic quality of the skating.  I feel similarly about gymnastics. When I watch gymnasts, I do not care a whole lot whether a subjective reviewer gives them a 8.9 or 9.1, I am just wowed by what these athletes can do.

I just completed a collection of short stories called, To Be a Man, by Nicole Krauss.  I'd read a positive review of the book somewhere and looked up the author.  Then I requested both the new collection and a novel she had written previously.  I did not think the novel--which came first--was, as my grandfather would say, so extra.  It was called Man Walks Into a Room.  I believe the current word used to describe my reaction to that book is, Meh.  About a week ago the anthology came through and I went to pick it up.

There are ten stories in the collection.  For the most part I do not think the stories are that profound, but the experience of reading the stories was akin to the experience I describe above when I marvel watching gymnasts. The author writes so well that I found myself stopping every so often to wonder how in the world she could have strung the sentences together in the way that she did.  

One of the stories is called "To Be a Man" and the book is named the same, though that story is not representative of the others nor is it in my opinion the best either because of the story or the writing.

The one that has stuck with me both because of how well it is written and the story itself is called, "The Husband."  I don't think my summary below gives much away as the story is not a suspense.  

A woman who is a psychologist lives in New York City with her two children.  She is divorced and grew up in Israel. Her mother still lives in Tel Aviv and her brother about twenty minutes away in Jaffa.  Her father died of a heart attack about five years earlier.  Regularly the mother and daughter speak on the phone, and on Fridays typically face time.  One day her mother calls at an unusual time to tell the daughter that she won't believe what has happened.  The daughter is not especially interested except the mother is eager to relay what has occurred. Someone from Social Services rang her apartment bell and asked to come up.  The mother, uncomfortable with a stranger coming up, asked for the business to be stated ahead of time. No, it was private, said the representative.

Eventually the mother says, okay.  And up comes the man from social services with a small elderly man who has a little brown cap.  The social services man is beaming, and says, well I bet you can tell now why I insisted on coming up. The mother said she is clueless, Well, look, he says, we found your husband.

This of course was ridiculous to both the mother and the daughter.  They keep referring to the little guy with the brown hat as The Husband even though the idea that the husband has been found is preposterous since the real husband/father is dead and buried.

The problem for the daughter is that the next time she calls the mother and asks facetiously how is the little husband (I may be blurring some incidents but this is the gist) the mother happily says, he's still around--and whispers conspiratorially--he's not so little.

Well, the daughter is flabbergasted and upset. She calls her brother who says he knows about it, but what is the big deal.  Mom kind of likes "the husband." But he's not the husband sputters the daughter.  The daughter can sense over the phone her brother shrugging "so, big deal."  After facetiming with her mother one Friday and sensing that the husband is in the apartment, she gives the phone as is customary to her 10 year old son and walks out of the room, only to come back in and hear that the husband is showing the kid card tricks.

It goes on from there and I'll stop the narrative, but the point seems to be that we become attached to people for reasons not so far removed from how the mother became attached to the husband. (You don't learn his name until near the end).  The daughter who is content, sort of, to be unattached from her children's father, finds the mother's quick connection with the husband worse than disconcerting.

The Husband is the longest short story in the collection--about forty pages  I may be doing justice to the events, but not how Krauss has presented them.  The writing is very far beyond meh. Really remarkable.  So, if you feel like being wowed with how someone writes I might suggest reading the stories. Not much novel in there, but even the Russian judges would rate the work close to a ten.

No comments:

Post a Comment