These nine stories are about life as a maturing American watching maturing Americans mature. We all know how life can implode on us at any given moment. I am fascinated by how implosions usually don’t destroy us. They make us better and stronger and teach us lessons. And yet life continues to be such a special mess for each of us.
Implosions? Well, these stories aren’t really about huge destructions to personality, they’re more about the small stuff and the way that small stuff can affect love, dignity, and what gives meaning to waking up every day. Most of these stories, I realize after finishing the book, are memory games where longing and affection act like fogs over reality.
What I wanted to do with this book was try as best I could to remake the male psyche in fiction. I have been very frustrated over the past decade with the way men are depicted in stories. We are not fearless brutes, nor are we heroic, or simple cads and jesters. Most of us struggle with emotion daily. Most of us want to be loved for who we are more than anything in the world. Our anger, our rage (at times), isn’t some twisted, failed psychological frailty, it’s a result of the frustration and confusion we feel struggling with our emotions and our sense of not being understood.
Yes, of course, there are men who do demonic things and who selfishly destroy their marriages and relationships due to sexual urges and narcissism. Most of us, no doubt, battle with those demons on and off in our lives. But, for the most part, those demons are easily defeated because we want to be selfless and loving. As we mature, too, there is this feeling that often comes to the front of who we are at our best — it’s the urge to take care of people and support and teach. I have so many friends like that. They are volunteer coaches in my neighborhood, proud husbands and fathers, good friends, and natural community leaders in one thing or another.
The stories in this collection hint at much of this. Some are meditations and ruminations, some are allegories, and some are opportunities for the reader to look inside the mind of men who have imploded emotionally and are trying to find their way out of the rubble. “Drink, Smoke, Search” finds two old high school friends bumping into each other at the mall. The narrator has seriously screwed up two marriages. His long-lost friend has made it out of the “crowdog pack” and found true love. In “The Choice Game” the narrator is struggling with the early stages of knowing that his health is waning. His wife is in a kind of denial about her own health.
“So Beautiful” is a memory game of sorts with a narrator remembering an early girl friend who was very attractive, putting a fine point on the fact that he has failed at so many things in his life. The title story to this collection, “Implosions of America,” is one of my favorites. It’s about those innocent days way back there in the 1970s when college students were looking for ways to critique American culture. Janie Hawthorn organizes a TV destruction event for election night 1980 promising to toplessly implode TVs. (My spell check tells me that “toplessly” is not a word. I beg to differ and so does Janie and her crew).
In “African Violets,” “A Civil Marriage,” and “The Exact Black of Night” we get narrators contemplating marriage in different ways, chastened by their extreme respect for their wives. Each story shows how pathetic, stupid, and lost men can be, but these stories also demonstrate how humbling love of our wives truly is.
“Fishing for Success” is the most plot-driven of the stories in this collection. Three college friends go fishing in the Outer Banks with a fishing guide. Their neuroses and banter are a bit maddening. They catch fish, there’s a gun, and two of them reveal secret fears that result in a discussion about the question “What is art?” … and so much more.
Finally, the very short “Everyone Always Wants to Do the Cooking” finds a gaggle of post-drunk young males in a trailer in the country waiting for a comrade to return from a run to town for groceries. They’re listening to an experimental radio show that gets some of them a bit too wound up and confused.
It’s this issue of confusion, I think, that is at the heart of all men here in the early days of the 21st century. That confusion has always been there, but these days it’s quite rarified and almost sublime. Love and Confusion are truly at the heart of everything for us guys. It doesn’t matter if we’re 12 or 52, we’ve all been raised by strong women, and fathers who respect those strong women. Even when we seem like we’re cavalier about sex or football or cars — even when we act like we’re smarter than everyone else or belittle people at work — every one of us knows full well we’re confused. We struggle with that confusion every day. It’s different for each of us. But at our core none of us want to be that way. We truly want to be heroes and solid citizens.
My commitment to fiction is all about unraveling the many facets of these confusions. It’s hard, and I certainly don’t claim to attack this issue as effectively yet as I want. Read these stories anyway. Sign up for mailings from this web site. Email me your thoughts and responses and suggestions. There’s a lot of humor in the middle of the mess I’m describing — the mess of the male mind. But it’s serious business trying to get down to brass tacks as well. Please feel free to comment on these pages and tell me if you think I’m full of shit. I don’t mind as long as you’ve read my stories. Just say “No!” to your TV and Internet an hour a day. Happy reading. Happy thinking. Happy confusing mess…
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