Caught in the muddle of modern life, eyes gazing at the middle
distance, the characters in Silent Retreats search, down
roads paved by custom and dotted by the absurd, for escape, refuge,
or, at least, merciful diversion.
Many of the men in Philip Deaver's stories, having drifted out
of their native Illinois to the far corners, find comfort from
empty jobs and blank relationships in healing, often hilarious,
seductions. In "Why I Shacked Up With Martha" a distracted DC
executive pierces the gray blur of his glass box on Dupont Circle
with illicit, painfully superficial notes passed to his beautiful,
liberated coworker. In "Marguerite Howe," a businessman from Texas
at a cocktail party in New Haven accosts his hostess, blindly
convinced that she is the woman of his college day-dreams at the
University of Virginia. And, in Nebraska, a defeated legal aid
attorney escapes the cold wind of failure and a near suicidal woman
in the deep warmth of "Fiona's Rooms."
Other characters, still within the radius of central Illinois,
tread through the familiar scenery of the past, measuring with
landmarks of memory the distance, and yet the circularity, time has
wrought in their lives. In the title story, Martin Wolf--overcome
with tears during the morning commute and craving connection and
the cleansing rituals of his Catholic youth--learns from the words
of a parish priest, crackling through the lines of a pay phone as
cars screech by on Roosevelt Road, that silence has become
self-indulgent. And in "Infield," Carl Landen savors the
well-ordered tableau of the Pony League diamond where he played
shortstop and where his son now plays that position. Recalling the
ache in the shoulder after an overhand throw, seeing in his mind
the figure of his father intruding at the edge of the field, he
relaxes the pain of generations, the soreness that comes from
knowing a town too well.
A well-known theme of Philip Deaver's stories is "what happened
to men after what happened to women." The stories in Silent
Retreats trace the tentative journeys of men as they redefine
who they are in a changed world while still coping with memory and
desire in the old ways. Above all, these stories chronicle a search
for absolution--for the elusive freedom lurking among the very
syllables of the word.
Subjects: Language & Literature
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