"Seventeen Different Ways to Get a Load of That"

by Ben Greenman

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from What He's Poised to Do (Harper Perennial, $13.99)

"From the air, the house looked like a joke told by someone with no sense of timing," begins a story in What He's Poised to Do, Ben Greenman's second-most-recent short-story collection. (What He's Poised to Do was published in June—Celebrity Chekhov, which retells Chekhov stories from the perspective of famous Americans, was published just last week, making every other author in America feel lazy.) The description is straight out of Google Maps: "A big brown rectangle in the middle of a slightly bigger green rectangle tatted with a white picket fence."

A view from above is an okay way to begin a story about the aftermath of a divorce, but soon enough we learn that our narrator has a more celestial perspective: He abandons his sister Jill to the battlefield of their mother and absent father to attend Lunar University. (Years before, Jill entered a contest to name America's new moon base; one of her entries was "Moonesota.") After the narrator leaves, he begins writing letters home that cause a horrible misunderstanding. Just by adding superficial science-fiction elements and widening the distance between its characters to cosmic proportions, Greenman makes the classic American short story about divorce seem new again.

"What You See"

by Gina Frangello

from Slut Lullabies (Emergency Press, $15)

"What You See" is the most nontraditional story in Gina Frangello's debut collection, and it doesn't carry the urgency of some of the others, but in many ways it feels like the ur-story, a root code that reveals the secrets behind the whole book. Part of that has to do with its obliqueness—character names include Beautiful Woman, Intelligent Woman, and Aggressive Woman's Ft. Lauderdale Fling—and part has to do with the directness of its language.

A pair of couples go on a cruise. Intelligent Woman worries about the inevitable trip to a nude beach where Beautiful Woman will take her top off. Will Intelligent Woman's Husband (he is Intelligent, too; together, they are Academics) stare too hard at Beautiful Woman's breasts? The story meanders after this modest concern, taking time along the way to catalog the small cruelties between women, and the gross cruelties men inflict on women. Once you read "What You See," you discover that the rest of Slut Lullabies is, in more subtle ways, a series of sly variations on one brutal theme.

Ben Greenman reads Fri Oct 8, University Book Store, 7 pm, free.