Matthew Klam's male narrators in Sam the Cat
hate and need women in equal measure. By and large they're not physically violent men, but they do possess a certain free-floating aggression--the byproduct of sad childhoods, dads who treated them like losers, and moms who weren't quite all there. Indeed, throughout this troubling, masterfully written collection of stories, women never seem truly present, however central they may be. As the typically indiscriminate narrator of "Not This" explains, his girlfriend "fit my idea of the supreme woman. Why? Who gives a shit. We fell in love."
In the title story, which catapulted the author into the spotlight when it ran in The New Yorker, a guy goes out looking to get laid, then finds himself hitting on a man in drag. Other potential mates turn out to be only nominally less ersatz, with eyes "like a plastic doll's." Klam's men know that they're supposed to locate love somewhere among these zombies, but they can't find it, and this fills them with irritation and angry longing. Cumulatively, his stories paint a grim picture indeed: one of a bitter, stifled heterosexuality, leading straight to violence or to varying degrees of lifelessness. His taut, spooky prose recalls another connoisseur of erotic disappointment, Lorrie Moore. But where Moore is partial to neurotic women, Klam's subject is the guy who wishes he could transcend himself and be redeemed from the small and angry America in which he's stuck. --Emily White
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From Publishers Weekly
Prosperous, morally addled young Americans wallow and flail in a glossy, unsettling consumer wonderland in Klam's unnervingly dead-on debut collection of seven long stories. Capturing contemporary speech and thought patterns as few writers can, Klam practically channels his protagonists, allowing them to inhabit him rather than the other way around. In the hilarious title story, a testosterone-crazed advertising executive is forced to reconsider his sexuality when he is unexpectedly attracted to another man. Klam's choppy, declarative sentences perfectly capture the comedy of a dissolute serial monogamist raging against self-discovery and the poignant confusion that such discovery brings. In "Linda's Daddy's Loaded," a wealthy father spoils his daughter and her husband so much that the couple is nearly driven apart, longing for the days when they struggled together in relative poverty. Deftly manipulating symbols and disjunctive prose, Klam explores the existential vacuum that threatens when the American Dream is obediently followed. "The Royal Palms," an O. Henry Award-winning story, is an elegantly composed tale in which the mutely explosive disappointments of a failed marriage are silhouetted against the backdrop of a Caribbean paradise. Other psychologically penetrating entries include "Not This," about a man who relishes the possibility of donating sperm to his pompous older brother's wife, and "Issues I Dealt With in Therapy," about the reunion of two college friends at a wedding and the collision of past idealism with recent imperatives of success. Throughout the collection, Klam demonstrates his mastery of the fine art of irony, exposing the nerve endings of his complex, often tormented, sometimes funny, characters, while allowing the reader to make his or her own judgments. (May) FYI: In 1999, Klam was named one of the 20 best young fiction writers in America by the New Yorker.
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