Post Road Magazine #12

EXCITABLE WOMEN, DAMAGED MEN by Robert Boyers

Adam Braver

With a national narrative primed in disconnection, it is no wonder that so many people are in constant search for their identities, going to sleep pure of mind but waking up with bruises that they can’t account for.

That narrative only succeeds by undoing the concept of contradiction. It tries to say that immoral acts are moral. How unconscionable deeds are committed in the name of good conscience. There is a sword of Damocles hanging above our collective heads, prodding us into permanent stasis, forging the fear that what is good may be bad, and what’s bad may be good. This narrative has no conscience. No sense of irony. It is all based on creating—and then preserving—a moment. And outside of that moment nothing matters. It is as though there will be no future, and there has been no past. Only a single disconnected moment that supposedly is pure—free of conflict and dissent.

What I like about the stories in Robert Boyers’s collection, Excitable Women, Damaged Men, is that they are not afraid of contradiction. They don’t fear the discrepancies of human nature. Instead they take us right into the gray areas of any particular moment, where we can all fuss and fidget in the situation, squirming at the incongruities, but still trust that they eventually will all lead to something.

We see Samantha, in a story of the same name, the lone African-American student in an upper echelon university, rejecting the institutionalization of multiculturalism, while paradoxically—and somewhat unknowingly—subverting ways to assert her identity. Or take the protagonist in “A Perfect Stranger” who develops an obsession with a curt, gruff man. He follows him, stalking him, not certain of what he is going to do, but determined to right the brute of his wrongs. But in a real moment of irony, the protagonist ends up teetering between empathy and sympathy with the man he stalks—without ever seeing himself in his subject.

And maybe that is the key to so many of Boyers’s stories—the very essence of internal conflicts that go unrecognized. In an unfettered belief of being pure and honest, Boyers’s characters so often don’t see their own flaws—or perhaps can’t see their own flaws. And it is the reader’s relationship to that blindness that makes so many of these stories both heartbreaking and compelling, as though Boyers has dipped just the tip of his brush into dramatic irony.

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Like any good short story, those in Excitable Women, Damaged Men jump right into the moments that matter. Nobody is safe in here. Black. Gay. Jew. Businessman. Academic. Student. Man. Woman. Mother. Father. Nobody gets a pass. They all are dangling around in those unknown, unaware moments that later will define their lives.

Excitable Women, Damaged Men. By Robert Boyers. It understands that rubbing two sticks together is more than just rubbing two sticks together. It knows that it will make fire that may burn down the house. To the ground. •

Adam Braver is the author of Mr. Lincoln’s Wars—a novel in thirteen stories and Divine Sarah. He lives in Rhode Island and teaches at Roger Williams University. His next book, Crows Over the Wheatfields, will be published by William Morrow.

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