Andy Mozina, The Women Were Leaving the Men
Wayne State University Press, 2007.
Reviewed by Heidi Bell
ROCK, SCISSORS, PAPER
In "Privacy, Love, Loneliness," one of the thirteen luminous stories in Andy Mozina's collection The Women Were Leaving the Men, two teenagers play a post-coital game of rock, scissors, paper in the backseat of a 1978 LTD. Then they play a variation of the game called privacy, love, loneliness, in which "Privacy excludes love, love beats loneliness, loneliness pries open privacy, since if you got too lonely you'd be willing to give up some of your privacy."
Mozina is inventive like that: he makes things new, makes short stories seem like something we haven't seen before. These are stories you don't want to say much about, because you don't want to ruin them by giving too much away. But after reading them, you will understand that Mozina is a rare being--a fearless writer, one who takes death-defying risks. And, all things considered, his success rate is staggering.
Some of Mozina's stories are mainly about story: myth, conflict, action.
Solid. Foundational. Compact.
Rock breaks scissors. Destruction. Rebirth.
- "Cowboy Pile"—A story you might not have heard about cowboys, written like an anthropological study, with lyricism and humor that is somehow both gentle and biting. It's risky to create a myth about an archetype that already exists. The narrator asks of a certain cowboy, "Does he give in to reality or does he go for legend?" Legend, certainly. Mozina has the nerve to reinvent reality.
- "The Women Were Leaving the Men"—Another cultural study, this time dead-on realistic: "'It's like arguing with one of those plastic clowns you can't tip over.'" Darkly, painfully funny, especially if you have ever been married.
- "The Housekeeper's Confession"—Father Bob wrestles with lust: "The rectory had never had a housekeeper born after World War I. There had been a series of ageless Polish and German and Puerto Rican widows with tremendous forearms who treated the priests as if they were ten-year-old sons. Barbara Fuller was a problem."
- "Admit"—A funny story about a failing comedian. Puzzle on that one awhile. The narrator's therapist says, "Whatever you do...you need to be in a structured environment," and the narrator wonders "if an underground bunker would qualify as a structured environment." The final paragraph of this story will make you say, "Ouch."
Some of Mozina's stories are mainly about emotion: desire, obsession, imbalance.
Cutting. Fragile. Perilous.
Scissors cut paper. Confetti.
- "The Enormous Hand"—The struggles of Bill, a man with an enormous--yes--hand, and his nemeses, the Bergstroms. It is the only story in the collection I felt went on too long, because the story meandered, and I found the language opaque. I could not see the story for the words. It is redeemed, however, by writing like this: "[T]he Bergstroms stopped recycling, let their shrubs grow wild, bid recklessly at bridge, and kept each other freshly lacerated with sharp words and salty oaths...."
- "The Arch"—Fetishes-R-Us. "Her apartment smells like those lubricants mixed with a loamy aroma: asshole, pussy, armpit."
- "The Love Letter"—A story based on a risky, risky premise that will, in the end, tip you off your teeter-totter: "'We all have fantasies,' she continued, 'and when one of them comes true, we need to stop and think about what it means.'"
- "Lighter Than Air"—Have you noticed yet that Mozina has incredible range? Here, he writes from the perspective of a young anorexic hairdresser: "Kelly glimpsed her arms in the big mirror over her station. She thought her arms had almost nothing extra on them. They were arms, pure arms."
Some of Mozina's stories are mainly about language: utterance, syntax, poetry.
Versatile. Graceful. Lyrical.
Paper covers rock. Sublimation. Paper completes the circle.
- "Privacy, Love, Loneliness"—It's about trying to be normal: "She said she liked me because I was 'different.' This seemed to mean my normalcy campaign was failing, but I knew that people like Gracie went for a normal sort of differentness. It was the deranged way of being different that I was afraid she would see in me." How can I describe, without relying on cliché, a piece of writing that is pitch-perfect, heartbreaking? If you read only one of Andy Mozina's stories, read this one.
- "My Way of Crying"—Mozina's best stories are a series of sentences each of which makes you stop and laugh or stop in awe or both: "Summer had hit and St. Louis felt soaked in lighter fluid."
- "Beach"—A woman and a man walk along the water: "The sky have [sic] a color that the water wants to know."
- "Moon Man"—What if you knew that your best days were behind you? "Night was coming—or, we were rotating into a darkness. On the moon, darkness is a place; you have to seek it out. On the Earth, it's a time; you can't get away from it."
- "My First Cake Was a Failure"—A story like poetry, and not the narrative kind. We're following the narrator in the dark, feeling our way along, and yet, somehow, we know what is happening, operating on a level that has little to do with logic: "The moon was just getting started, and the naked trees were swaying but stiff, like old people trying to dance." We feel lucky to have such a mediator, such a guide through the underworld.
*If you care, the images are modified from those found [here].