Sunday, April 26, 2015

Thirst by Ken Kalfus

Stories that work on several levels

These stories are about people in different worlds, ranging from an uptight Irish nanny in Paris, a New Yorker who seems to be living his dream (literally), a nuclear family in an endless snowstorm in Brooklyn, tand finally to Vietnamese peasants in a monsoon. The voice was authoritative, though slightly off-kilter. On one hand, these are smoothly controlled satirical narratives about American life, on the other, just beneath the surface was an unquenchable rage against injustice. The stories depict power relationships, but each time, the powerful one asks, who is really in charge?

I had read Kalfus’s story about Dominique Strauss Kahn (Coup de Foudre) in a recent edition of Harpers and knew I had to read more. That story was about an influential man and his sexual escapades, then it turned into an indictment, an indictment of the man and an indictment of the system that made him. And, oh yes, an indictment of men in general. The stakes were huge. The stories in Thirst are similar – sensual writing framed by an intellectual accusation. Did I mention they were also very funny?

The writing was consistently excellent, and personally I favored the more realistic stories, although I liked Night and Day You Are The One, about a young man who seems to be living two different lives – one on the East Side of Manhattan, the other on the West. A few minutes after he goes to bed he wakes up on the other side of town and needs to head off to a different job as well as a different woman. Which one is the dream? I also like The Joy and Melancholy Baseball Trivia Quiz, which took a turn into the surreal and was hilarious. I wasn’t that crazy about Cats in Space, about kids torturing kittens, but I loved Rope Bridge. This was the most realistic of the stories and cleanly and sensually written. The stakes at first seem to be low, a simple adultery story, but then it also turns into a story about losing your mind, doubting yourself and losing the family life you care about a lot.

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