C.D.B. Bryan

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Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 506

There is an unmistakable flatness to ["Love and Other Euphemisms"]…. The euphemisms she writes about are "marriage," "divorce," "separation," "affairs," "engagements," but none of the characters seem convincingly alienated or bitter or agonized or angry enough to want to refer to "love" euphemistically. They are all too polite.

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Her collection contains one novella, "Pratfalls," and five short stories, three of which to all intents and purposes are about the same sort of Jewish girl as Rachel Ovcharov Wittiker, the heroine of the novella, who wants to be interesting, wants to have people talk about her, but who instead of making things happen waits for things to happen. (p. 31)

Her strengths as a writer lie in her obviously good eye for detail but her weakness is her characters. In "Magic" the girl spends the weekend with her prospective in-laws, a brother-in-law who has had a nervous breakdown and not thoroughly recovered, and the tensions that one is to believe are created by the banality of her anticipated surroundings are enough to make the girl want out. But who says she deserves any better? In "An American Marriage" a couple decide to consult separate analysts before calling an end to their marriage. And the girl, while at her analyst's office, says, "God, make me a more interesting neurotic." Amen. In "Apocalypse at the Plaza" a wife calls her ex-husband and invites him to lunch with her now-husband. It is potentially a good scene, the crazed dropout artist's ex versus the conventional, up-tight businessman, and when they meet the two men begin discussing clothes and down deep you realize they really are discussing clothes. So-o-o-o what?

It's only in "The Boy in the Green Hat," that the author begins to realize her potential. The wife is the sort whose postnatal depression is dangerously severe with symptoms of paranoia thrown in. The wife has come back from the park with the small child and says she has been followed by a boy in a green hat. The husband must find out if she really was followed or whether this is a recycling paranoia and depression. The wife finds out he is checking up on her and her reaction, of course, is that he doesn't trust her, which compounds her paranoia and despair. It is, by far, the best story in this collection.

I think Norma Klein's problem might be lack of confidence. She needs to take charge of her characters more firmly. There is a little too much of people just going through their paces; she is a little too-well-mannered, as though she had someone whose opinion she valued too highly or whose feelings she didn't want hurt looking over her shoulder. She will learn, I hope, to write her next book for herself. And for that one she should take off the kid gloves and not sit up quite so straight at her typing table. (pp. 32-3)

C.D.B. Bryan, in a review of "Love and Other Euphemisms," in The New York Times Book Review, October 15, 1972, pp. 31-3.

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