Best known as a novelist and frequently anthologized as a writer of short stories, Elkin also produced a significant body of work in a form, the novella, that most contemporary American writers have, perhaps for commercial reasons, avoided. That Elkin found the novella form so appealing is understandable, for it allowed him to combine the emphasis on situation and acute character that typifies his short stories with the spatial freedom of the novel so necessary to the development of his poetics of resentment and obsession.
What especially distinguishes Her Sense of Timing is how painfully close Elkin—never an autobiographical writer but always willing to draw on personal material—is working to the autobiographical bone. He takes his own increasing state of helplessness and dependency (on the drugs used in the treatment of his heart disease and multiple sclerosis, on his wheelchair and stair-glide, and, above all, on his wife, Joan) and asks a simple question: What would happen if a character who is not the author but who is like him in terms of age, personality, academic affiliation, and medical history suddenly found himself home alone, abandoned by a wife who, after thirty-six years of marriage and a decade or so spent caring for her disabled husband, decided that she had had enough?
Although he can understand Claire’s leaving, political geographer Jack Schiff greatly resents her going and resents most her leaving on the very...
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