T Cooper – “The Husband” from One Story

Ok, so I’m a little behind with One Story. You know how it is, they come in the mail and you throw them on the bookshelf with every intent of reading them immediately, but you put something else on top and then you start reading this story which reminds you of that story and a book by the same author and you checked those biographies of Martha Gellhorn out of the library and before you know it, another envelope has arrived and you give up and put them in a little pile to read together some day… well, some day happens eventually, and I’ve finally begun digging into my backlog of One Story. “The Husband” by T Cooper is from issue 138, mid-July 2010.

And it’s a treasure. I love it. There are some moments of confusion in the early exposition, and as one reviewer (who hated the story) said, it’s full of parentheses. I love parentheses. As a writer, I love all punctuation. I get pissy when I’m told I can’t use all these incredible things on my computer keyboard – {} and [] and : and ; (only in scholarly work, they say – bosh, I say) and – and / and …, everything but ! which was beaten out of me at an early age (once per 10,000 words and only in dialogue). The semicolon is a particulary favorite of mine. Come on, how else do you get that pause that is what the traffic cops call a rolling stop, unlike the period which is the motionless full stop, or the comma which is a mere slowing? Scholarly work? Bah!

I digress. I always do. I love digressing as much as I love punctuation.

The title character of “The Husband” is a dentist, now widowed, and ardently pursued by his neighbor-lady. His daughter – um, no, make that, son – is an international rock star with the Coney Island White Fish. And a terrific character, especially when seen through the eyes of this father who is confused by how his daughter is now his son, and also through the eyes of other characters who tell Dad about his wonderful, charming son. There are moments that are wonderfully drawn – about zippers, about penises and habits of gender, about concerts, about protective undergarments, about mothers, about the hazards of dentistry. And about fathers, The Amazing Race, daughters, sons, wives, and neighbor-ladies. I love the style, I love the characters, I love how things echo, I love everything about it, even if I was a little confused in a couple of places early on, trying to figure out who Gladys was and what Friends had to do with it.

In this story I see specificity at work, and I understand it a little better. It’s not the endless listing of details in scene that I find so tiresome; it’s evocative, mood-creating, softer than I’ve been led to believe. The section beginning “Will you unzip me?” is a miracle. And it sets a certain timeframe, an age, on the character, I think. Movies and TV shows set in the 50’s and early 60’s frequently included a wife asking her husband to zip her dress. Not so much, now, partly because dresses are not as frequently worn (and pants can be zipped by the wearer) and partly because many dresses have side zippers or no zippers at all. And perhaps women have forgotten those scenes that now seem so banal but were just a little exciting. Judith Martin, aka Miss Manners, gives a description of straightening the seams of one’s stockings that is almost pornographic, but it does require seamed stockings which, well, yeah, what are those, and do they come in little eggs?

I thought other scenes worked really well, in the same evocative way: the description of the daughter/son’s concert, the anesthetic injection that goes awry, the double date with daughter/son, and the very last scene with the neighbor-lady, these are wonderfully drawn to me. I’m a little confused about that anesthetic scene, as well-written as it is, and what part it plays in the story as a whole, but I’ll chalk that up to my reading. I’ll re-read this at a later time and see if it makes more sense to me.

Themes of gender are carried forward by the intimacy of zippers and chairs; and a father’s love, not to mention a neighbor-lady’s persistance, can overcome all obstacles.

One Story has a great interview with T Cooper (whose gender is unspecified; I love that).

I read three other One Story volumes over the past couple of weeks, but this was the only one in that bunch that stood out. I have to start working my way through the pile. But I have those biographies of Martha Gellhorn to read…


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