Excitable Women, Damaged Men. Stories—Robert Boyers

The cover alone is intriguing.  Of course, my eleven-year-old son looked at it, asked what it was about and, when I said crazy people, he said, “Why would anyone want to read about crazy people?”  Why?  Because we’re all a little crazy.

Boyers begins his collection with a lovely scene in which a mother, supine on the floor, screams at the top of her lungs.  He had me at scream.  The first tale, “Excitable Woman,” examines the relationship between a neurotic mother left divorced at the age of sixty and her detached and passively angry son. 

“Samantha” is an angry young black woman who tries to give the middle finger to the system and to everyone participating in it.

“Perfect Stranger” watches the devolution from interested spectator to overly-invested stalker.

“The Visit” questions what our heroes are like in their daily lives and what happens when we see them being ordinary.

“Torso” seems to be about a sad single mother, but ends up turning its lens on a sad older artist.

“Tribunal” discomforts in its look at how we crave and repel the exotic and how we construct our sense of identity through the eyes of others.

“In Hiding” returns to parent/child relationships and draws a sympathetic portrait of a retired gym teacher/widower isolated from his daughter and left in a mud pit of a retirement community.

“The French Lesson” explores the search for the feminine self in the 70s and suggests the futility of looking for identity anywhere but within.

“Secrets and Sons” returns to the hero theme and asks how well we know somone and how we know how well we know them.

There are many themes interwoven through Boyers’ tales.  One is sexuality.  Many of the tales about men contain homoerotic or openly homosexual interpersonal issues.  Many of the other stories, such as “Torso” and “Samantha,” touch on sexuality without making it the central theme. 

The overarching theme, however, seems to be seeing.  How we see others.  How we see ourselves.  Sons are unable to see mothers.  Daughters are unable/unwilling to see fathers.  How do we see our heroes and how much do we really want to see?  When we think we truly see a person, how do we know we’ve seen it all?  How much do we care about how others see us?  What obligations do we have to those who see us casually?  Can we change our vision of ourselves by putting ourselves in a new setting? 

Boyers title could as easily have been “Damaged Women, Excitable Men,” as what makes us excitable is often our damage.  The title could also, therefore, have been “Everyone.” 

What Boyers manages to do best is put us in the position of both spectator and object at the same time that creates a cognitive dissonance and discomforts us enough to question both roles and their relationships with each other.  Reading about his excitable women and damaged men pushes us to think about how we see.  And that’s a beautiful thing as I see it.

Finished 9/23

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