Winner of the 2005 Drue Heinz Literature Prize
Between Camelotsis about the struggle to forge relationships and the spaces that are left when that effort falls short. In the title story, a man at a backyard barbecue waits for a blind date who never shows up. He meets a stranger who advises him to give up the fight; to walk away from intimacy altogether and stop getting hurt. The wisdom-or foolhardiness-of that approach is at the heart of each of these stories. In "I'll Be Home," a young man who has converted to Judaism goes home for Christmas in Miami, and finds that his desire to connect to his parents conflicts with his need to move on. "The Movements of the Body" introduces us to a woman who believes that she can control the disintegration of her life through a carefully measured balance of whiskey and mouthwash. These are stories about loss and fear, but also about the courage that drives us all to continue to reach out to the people around us.
Front MatterFront Matter (pp. [i]-[vi]) https://doi.org/10.2307/j.ctt6wrd1t.1
Table of ContentsTable of Contents (pp. [vii]-[x]) https://doi.org/10.2307/j.ctt6wrd1t.2
MisdirectionsMisdirections (pp. 1-2) https://doi.org/10.2307/j.ctt6wrd1t.3
MY WIFE is using the mice as an excuse to let our marriage fall apart. All night they crawl around in our walls and we can hear them gnawing. Theyʹre gnawing at the foundation of our marriage, she says. She complains I wonʹt do anything about them, or about anything else, and thatʹs the problem. Neither of us mentions the man whose sweat she smells like these days.
But I put out humane traps, little plastic opaque boxes for them to get cornered in. Our son loads the peanut butter into the back ends. That same evening, weʹve got our...
Rue RachelRue Rachel (pp. 3-12) https://doi.org/10.2307/j.ctt6wrd1t.4
WHEN SHE woke up on the train, lying across two seats under her mink coat, her turquoise sneakers poking out into the aisle, Rachel didnʹt know where she was for a minute. Dizzy from the sleep and the pills, she lifted up on an elbow and looked out the window at fields of snow. ʺMygod,ʺ she said. She was supposed to be in a class, psychology or econ, depending on what time it was, but instead she was on her way to Montreal. Rachel let her head fall back down, her long, dark hair spreading around her.
Between CamelotsBetween Camelots (pp. 13-23) https://doi.org/10.2307/j.ctt6wrd1t.5
WHEN PAUL got to the house, the first thing he did was stand in the driveway to listen to the sounds of the barbecue going on in the backyard. He heard a large number of voices coming from there, more than a couple of conversations, all concentrated off in the near distance, all out of sight. He had passed other such focal points of sound along the way; there were probably many barbecues tonight. He stood still and listened in.
Then Marianna appeared from the back carrying a garbage bag to leave by the garage, and as soon as she...
The Movements of the BodyThe Movements of the Body (pp. 24-34) https://doi.org/10.2307/j.ctt6wrd1t.6
WHEN CATHY got to work, her breath was already a sharp, sweet mixture of whiskey and mouthwash. Her damp breath surrounded her. It washed over the receptionist, who would have to have been used to the smell but winced anyway, because of the strength of it. Cathyʹs breath filled the hallway in a vague but pervasive way as she walked back to her desk, aware of each one of her movements, consciously in control of all of them.
She exhaled once more as she arrived and dropped her bag against her cubicle wall. The drop sent a shudder through her...
BridesmaidBridesmaid (pp. 35-46) https://doi.org/10.2307/j.ctt6wrd1t.7
ʺARE YOU here alone?ʺ
This is now. Iʹm being asked this now. Standing next to my table is a woman, a skinny woman with somewhat curly dirty-blond hair all the way down her back, a black silk sleeveless shirt on. She looks polished, done-up, though perhaps—look at the thin lips, the bony bump in the nose, the skinny neck—a bit awkward, too.
Itʹs amazing to see her so clearly, through the darkness of the bar and more importantly all the fog in me, but itʹs because sheʹs so absolutelyright here, focused right on me, smiling with lots...
Nothing Ever Happens in White AmericaNothing Ever Happens in White America (pp. 47-63) https://doi.org/10.2307/j.ctt6wrd1t.8
THE SNOW started up just about an hour outside of Madison, when all signs of the little city were long gone and the highway was swinging through moderate hills. At first, the only thing holding onto it was the grass, but it started to build up over the miles, clinging to old patches of stubborn ice that probably had been there since November. I hadnʹt spent much time outside the city since I moved to the area, yet I imagined northern Wisconsin to always be frozen, even in the summer. Whenever I got back to Atlanta, my grandmother was amazed...
FightingFighting (pp. 64-71) https://doi.org/10.2307/j.ctt6wrd1t.9
MY FIRST fight since eighth grade happens the same night I get mugged on the corner of 48th and Osage. Thatʹs a long time to go without fighting, and thatʹs how you end up so unpracticed you get mugged by a kid, a teenager—not even carrying a knife or a gun, not even pretending by jamming his fist into his jacket pocket. He only has a tone of voice, sounding so sure he wants my wallet, more sure than I feel about keeping it. What do I know, grad student or not? So I hand it over, watch him...
Social GamesSocial Games (pp. 72-82) https://doi.org/10.2307/j.ctt6wrd1t.10
THE NEXT morning Sally and I sneak downstairs from her apartment into the Polecat Tap. This is where she works, tending bar, and so she easily finds some potato skins and eggs, fires up the grill. Even though the windows are clouded with the perpetual January Wisconsin frost, itʹs warm enough in here for her to be wearing a long pajama top, an apron, and nothing else. Iʹve got the pajama bottoms, but I also slipped my sweater back on, the one I wore last night. Last night on our first date. That thought—first date—takes me by surprise;...
Pointing UpPointing Up (pp. 83-85) https://doi.org/10.2307/j.ctt6wrd1t.11
MY LITTLE sister never touched a basketball once until she was twelve years old, but by the time she was fifteen, she could slip past me to the hoop more often than not. The length of her hands made her finger rolls soar in a long, aspiring arc that almost always flew unblockable to the hole, leaving me nothing but air to rebound. I considered myself a serious player, too—not the school varsity kind, but one of the wolfen kids tearing up the neighborhood courts.
I don’t know what happened to her between twelve and fifteen. I guess because...
Getting Back onto Solid FoodsGetting Back onto Solid Foods (pp. 86-103) https://doi.org/10.2307/j.ctt6wrd1t.12
ON THE day I was leaving for Oberlin, my housemate Beth gave me a few of the pancakes sheʹd cooked for her breakfast, and shared the real maple syrup sheʹd picked up in northern Wisconsin. She still nurtured me by habit, even though it had been more than four months since Natalie had broken up with me. Most other people had grieved with me for about two months and then they had gotten over it.
ʺWhen are you leaving?ʺ she asked. Her voice was deeply Wisconsin-accented, which made her sound all the more earnest and sincere.
ʺSoon—maybe eight-thirty.ʺ It...
RebbetzinRebbetzin (pp. 104-116) https://doi.org/10.2307/j.ctt6wrd1t.13
ʺARE YOU going to be all right?ʺ Nina asked, touching the front of my coat, as though testing for something. We were in the Northern Liberties section of Philadelphia, in front of a bar called Joyceʹs, after James Joyce. It looked like a broad and uncertain house, with small windows and a small porch and porch roof. From inside I could hear the large noise of people. Outside it was very dark and very cold.
ʺSure,ʺ I said. It was like a mother dropping her child off at a first day of school. My wife touched my coat front again,...
Searching the Reef in the Off-SeasonSearching the Reef in the Off-Season (pp. 117-126) https://doi.org/10.2307/j.ctt6wrd1t.14
EVERY STORE on the island is a jewelry store. They promise 75 percent off and send into the street the glow of display cases and shocking rushes of air-conditioning, like bakeries venting the smell of cinnamon pastries out among potential customers. At door after door, people engage us as though in conversation while actually delivering sales pitches, even though weʹre clearly just walking by—you know, it’s a perfect time to treat yourself, and ladies, once you’ve checked out our competition you’ll see—and halfway into the block we are moving at panic speed, just trying to find some kind...
OrangeOrange (pp. 127-128) https://doi.org/10.2307/j.ctt6wrd1t.15
THE NEXT morning we are still wary of one another. Our bodies will remember it as the first night since she arrived that we avoided touching one another, and what with all the talking before we slept we have nothing to say right now, this her last day here. We sit on opposite ends of the bed, leaning against the close walls that wedge us in. We slept in the same direction, but now weʹre sitting on opposite coasts.
She breathes in and out, watching me through what seems like humidity, or haze. This is what words do, create a...
Out in the OpenOut in the Open (pp. 129-143) https://doi.org/10.2307/j.ctt6wrd1t.16
ON SHABBAT evening, I walk through Old City among young artists who absolutely donʹt know that my wife is gone. Even my existence is off their radar, I can tell. As they lope along, underfed mostly, clothes extra big to increase the sense of their hanging off the bodies, their darting eyes skip me, center on other clumps of people in their age range, or on the few clearly wealthy people who might be inclined to buy if the galleries were open. In all of this, Iʹm invisible.
Filbert, a side street running at first along a fenced-up, locked-up park,...
Iʹll Be HomeIʹll Be Home (pp. 144-156) https://doi.org/10.2307/j.ctt6wrd1t.17
INCLUDING ME, I know three Jews who go home to their parents to celebrate Christmas. Weʹre sort of a support group for each other, even though our situations are different. Karenʹs parents, for example, do Christmas just because theyʹre go-along-to-get-along people, and they live in rural Ohio, where itʹs hard to be a Jew, for sure. Joshʹs parents, on the other hand, found Christ on a vacation in Canada. I donʹt know if theyʹre Jews for Jesus or Christians or what, but it makes Josh turn colors, he gets so angry. Me, Iʹm the oddball of the group, because I...
AcknowledgmentsAcknowledgments (pp. 157-157) https://doi.org/10.2307/j.ctt6wrd1t.18