Disturbance in One Place

Overview

Brazen and given to transgressions, the narrator of this mordantly witty novel is an aloof, tough talking, married Manhattan woman who carries on three affairs simultaneously, blithely breaking seven of the Ten Commandments in her search for a safe place to land. Rootless, bouncing from bed to bed, she knows she is pure of heart. If only she could find where her heart got lost. Irreverent and achingly honest, she points to the small but infinitely deep cracks in our masks, drawing the reader into her world of ...

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Overview

Brazen and given to transgressions, the narrator of this mordantly witty novel is an aloof, tough talking, married Manhattan woman who carries on three affairs simultaneously, blithely breaking seven of the Ten Commandments in her search for a safe place to land. Rootless, bouncing from bed to bed, she knows she is pure of heart. If only she could find where her heart got lost. Irreverent and achingly honest, she points to the small but infinitely deep cracks in our masks, drawing the reader into her world of misadventure -- erotic, comic, and deeply unsettling. Juggling four men -- her husband, "the hit man," "the multimedia artist," and "the love of her life" -- she can't decide whether she is out to prove or disprove the Talmudic wisdom: If you don't know where you're going, any road will take you there.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
In a series of graphic sketches, the author of the witty On Mermaid Avenue depicts a young Jewish woman who passes her days and nights in determined promiscuity as she and her random lovers casually confront their insecurities. New York at its urban dreariest is the background. The sharp-tongued narrator lives without guilt (``I like naked bodies, and when I put clothes on, it's with the idea of taking them off'') but desires to understand her past. Does she indulge in multiple liaisons because her father, a compulsive gambler, was a suicide? Is she haphazardly trying to find her Jewish roots? Whatever the reason, her rampant emotions propel her through a series of erotic and often funny encounters that bring her little comfort. The lovers are nameless: a Sicilian hit man; a famous multimedia artist; the aging love of her life; and the placid man she's been married to for four years, whom she refers to only as ``my husband.'' He has a cold streak and, fortunately, doesn't want to know too much. Some sharply defined episodes (a caustic encounter in a Dairy Deli; some nasty words from the hit man's long-dead mother) force this brittle woman to take a long, fresh look at herself. Kirshenbaum seems at times to be on a comic spree, but in the end this is a dark and powerful look at a troubled spirit. (Apr.)
Library Journal
Kisses melt her soul, thrift shopping skyrockets her adrenaline, and love affairs are her daily bread. Who is she? She is a delightfully brazen Jewish New Yorker who has a husband, two paramours, and one true love. Her Italian lover from Brooklyn ``speaks like Frank Sinatra sings,'' deluges her with sumptuous pastas, and begs her to declare her undying love. The multimedia artist is an egocentric, Dutch-treat type of guy who cares more about his art than people but is useful because he gives her ``dreamy orgasms.'' She treats her husband like a postscript since she married him mostly to ensnare the true love of her life, an elderly film critic. Ironically, her true love is a holdout, the only male she fails to hypnotize and lure into the sack. Kirshenbaum ( On Mermaid Avenue , LJ 3/1/93) titillates the reader with a clever novel that explores female sexual forays with frolicsome humor. Highly recommended.-- Mary Ellen Elsbernd, Northern Kentucky Univ. Lib., Highland Heights
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780060520885
  • Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
  • Publication date: 5/11/2004
  • Edition description: Reprint
  • Pages: 224
  • Product dimensions: 5.31 (w) x 8.00 (h) x 0.50 (d)

Meet the Author

Binnie Kirshenbaum is the author of An Almost Perfect Moment, On Mermaid Avenue, A Disturbance in One Place, Pure Poetry, Hester Among the Ruins, and History on a Personal Note. She is a professor at Columbia University's School of the Arts, where she is chair of the Graduate Writing Program.

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Read an Excerpt

A Disturbance in One PlaceThe Way Frankie Sings

I want to run, take up running for sport, maybe runmarathons. With this in mind, I buy an outfit: gym shorts,Lycra tank top. I also get a pair of Reeboks and one of thoseleather pouches to wear around my waist, to carry the essentials,like money and a lipstick.

Washington Square Park is where I choose to run. Notactually in, or through, the park but along its perimeter. I gothere at dusk when the purple sky, ushering in the cool of thenight, offers reprieve from the August heat.

He's leaning against the post of a street sign at the park'snortheast corner. He's dressed in black, but not like theswarms of young punks straining for decadent in rippedT-shirts and shredded denim. His clothes are snazzy, sharp.Lightweight gabardine trousers, a double-breasted linen sports jacket, like an old-time hood, a thug, a shadow cast. Abriefcase rests on the ground between his feet, and I assumeit's filled with packets of crisp money, or heroin, or a pistolwith a silencer — the tool of a paid assassin. As I near him, Iwatch him watching me. His eyes follow me, and when I pass,I feel him checking out my behind.

On my second lap around the park, he is prepared. He's gota cigarette out, unlit, between his lips. His glance catchesmine, and he gestures the striking of a match. As a rule, runnersdon't smoke. Two steps away from him, a pair of teenageboys are smoking reefer. He could've asked them for a light.But it happens that along with money, a lipstick, and a pack ofPlayers, I've got a book of matches.

He looks on while I unzip my leather pouch as if it were mydress I were unzipping, as if I were doing somethingsexy. Ifork over the matchbook, and he looks at it, both sides.

I might as well take a cigarette break too, and he strikes amatch for me, cupping his hand around the flame. We stand there smoking, sizing each other up, but we don't speak. His steady gaze from beneath heavy eyelids leaves me somewhat unsure of myself, off balance. But I keep my chin raised, tilted a degree upward. I hold my eyes steady, firm like his, and I blow smoke rings because I don't want him suspecting I am a little bit afraid.

My cigarette is nearly done, and I drop it, snuff the emberwith my sneaker, and wait. I wait for him to say something,andhe lets me wait. Another minute of that, and I think the hell withhim. I'm about to take off, resume running, when he says, "Yourmatches." He holds them out for me to take. "Thanks for thelight. I appreciate it." His voice, his diction, the way he enunciates his syllables, punctuates his consonants is unmistakably Brooklyn, elegant. He speaks like Sinatra sings.


Running, I concluded, was not the sport for me. As something to do, I didn't care for it. The outfit is unattractive,and the experience of running around and around the park, with no destination, was all too reminiscent of a dog chasing its own tail.

Nonetheless, I return to the park at dusk. Not to run, butto prowl. I go looking for that man, that hit man, to find him ifI can.

That he should be exactly where I left him the night before,at the northeast corner of the park, is farfetched. Yet I am notat all surprised to find him there, leaning against the streetpost, hands behind his back. "Got a match?" I ask.

He brings his hands around, not to light my cigarette, butto produce a bouquet of flowers, the way a magician bringsdoves from a silk scarf or thin air. The flowers are red. "I neverdid anything like this before," he confesses.

The sun slips below the horizon. Night falls, and we walk. Itseems as if the city were deserted, as if he and I were the onlytwo people, alone together, out on the streets. Our footstepsecho.

We ask no questions.

"I've been waiting for you," he says. "My whole life I'vebeen waiting for you."

I hold the red flowers by the stems, and a wind rises uparound us, a warm wind, a summer wind.

A Disturbance in One Place. Copyright © by Binnie Kirshenbaum. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.
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Table of Contents

1
The Way Frankie Sings 3
Brooklyn Ts 6
An Angel's Kiss 10
Check a Box 15
Making Beds 19
Awakening 23
Forgiveness 28
An Address 34
A Brief Outline of My Accomplishments 38
First Love, Last Love 45
Breaking Fast 54
Jews Have No Business Being Enamored of Germans 58
The Ins and Outs of Committing Adultery 65
Sons of Enormously Wealthy Men 69
Guilty as Sin 76
2
The Only Son 83
Separate Bags 88
Keeping Track 94
Beginning with Jealous Greek Goddesses 100
Another Crime of Passion 104
An Eye for What Looks Good 108
Mary Magdalene and Company 111
Matinee 115
To Know the Extreme 118
That Little Exchange 122
Seven Tales of Famine 126
Going for Distance 133
Another Hunger 138
Eye of the Needle 142
3
An Out-of-Body Experience 147
A Parable 151
Mirror, Mirror 154
Why Is a Good Question 158
Part of My Other Life 162
Haircut 167
Under the Aegean Sky 170
Recorded Messages 176
From Inside the Bone 180
Grandmother in Wolf's Clothing 185
The Confidence Game 191
Heart Failure 194
In Black and White 197
Early the Next Morning 200
Forfeit the Kiss 203
Everything Passes 207
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First Chapter

A Disturbance in One Place
A Novel

The Way Frankie Sings

I want to run, take up running for sport, maybe run marathons. With this in mind, I buy an outfit: gym shorts, Lycra tank top. I also get a pair of Reeboks and one of those leather pouches to wear around my waist, to carry the essentials, like money and a lipstick.

Washington Square Park is where I choose to run. Not actually in, or through, the park but along its perimeter. I go there at dusk when the purple sky, ushering in the cool of the night, offers reprieve from the August heat.

He's leaning against the post of a street sign at the park's northeast corner. He's dressed in black, but not like the swarms of young punks straining for decadent in ripped T-shirts and shredded denim. His clothes are snazzy, sharp. Lightweight gabardine trousers, a double-breasted linen sports jacket, like an old-time hood, a thug, a shadow cast. A briefcase rests on the ground between his feet, and I assume it's filled with packets of crisp money, or heroin, or a pistol with a silencer -- the tool of a paid assassin. As I near him, I watch him watching me. His eyes follow me, and when I pass, I feel him checking out my behind.

On my second lap around the park, he is prepared. He's got a cigarette out, unlit, between his lips. His glance catches mine, and he gestures the striking of a match. As a rule, runners don't smoke. Two steps away from him, a pair of teenage boys are smoking reefer. He could've asked them for a light. But it happens that along with money, a lipstick, and a pack of Players, I've got a book of matches.

He looks on while I unzip my leather pouch as if it were my dress I were unzipping, as if I were doing something sexy. I fork over the matchbook, and he looks at it, both sides.

I might as well take a cigarette break too, and he strikes a match for me, cupping his hand around the flame. We stand there smoking, sizing each other up, but we don't speak. His steady gaze from beneath heavy eyelids leaves me somewhat unsure of myself, off balance. But I keep my chin raised, tilted a degree upward. I hold my eyes steady, firm like his, and I blow smoke rings because I don't want him suspecting I am a little bit afraid.

My cigarette is nearly done, and I drop it, snuff the ember with my sneaker, and wait. I wait for him to say something,and he lets me wait. Another minute of that, and I think the hell with him. I'm about to take off, resume running, when he says, "Your matches." He holds them out for me to take. "Thanks for the light. I appreciate it." His voice, his diction, the way he enunciates his syllables, punctuates his consonants is unmistakably Brooklyn, elegant. He speaks like Sinatra sings.


Running, I concluded, was not the sport for me. As something to do, I didn't care for it. The outfit is unattractive, and the experience of running around and around the park, with no destination, was all too reminiscent of a dog chasing its own tail.

Nonetheless, I return to the park at dusk. Not to run, but to prowl. I go looking for that man, that hit man, to find him if I can.

That he should be exactly where I left him the night before, at the northeast corner of the park, is farfetched. Yet I am not at all surprised to find him there, leaning against the street post, hands behind his back. "Got a match?" I ask.

He brings his hands around, not to light my cigarette, but to produce a bouquet of flowers, the way a magician brings doves from a silk scarf or thin air. The flowers are red. "I never did anything like this before," he confesses.

The sun slips below the horizon. Night falls, and we walk. It seems as if the city were deserted, as if he and I were the only two people, alone together, out on the streets. Our footsteps echo.

We ask no questions.

"I've been waiting for you," he says. "My whole life I've been waiting for you."

I hold the red flowers by the stems, and a wind rises up around us, a warm wind, a summer wind.

A Disturbance in One Place
A Novel
. Copyright © by Binnie Kirshenbaum. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.
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Reading Group Guide

Introduction

A Disturbance in One Place follows the life of a distant, aloof, tough-talking, married woman who blithely breaks seven of the Ten Commandments in her search for innocence and a safe place to land. Rootless, bouncing from bed to bed, she knows she is pure of heart. If only she could find where her heart got lost. Erotic with a rare honesty, darkly humorous, and profound, A Disturbance in One Place points to the small but infinitely deep cracks in our masks, drawing us irresistibly into the world of a woman who seems unable to decide whether she is out to prove or disprove the Talmudic wisdom: If you don't know where you're going, any road will take you there.

Discussion Questions

  1. We don't learn that the narrator is married until after she has sex with her Brooklyn "hit man." Were you surprised?

  2. Infidelity in both History on a Personal Note and A Disturbance in One Place comes across commonplace, disconnected from marriage. Why do characters in these two books cheat? What does the act of infidelity reveal about them? Discuss how these books subvert our notions about who commits adultery. Does infidelity affect genders differently?

  3. The narrator takes great pride in her masterful blowjobs. But the multimedia artist does not like that particular sexual act. Why does he withhold from her the one activity she feels she has mastered? The multimedia artist is also cheap and petty. Why would she be drawn to him more than the hit man, who will give her anything?

  4. With her penchant for affairs, why did the narrator decide to marry in the first place? What role does a husbandplay in her life? Is there a particular desire he fulfills?

  5. The narrator reveals the events of her life with great sangfroid, nearly blase. At what points in the story do we know that she has more feeling about events than she lets on?

  6. When the narrator eats the kasha varnishka, traditionally an Eastern European Jewish food, she describes it as "something that has gone bad, food that's turned on me." What is the symbolism of this experience? Discuss the old woman's dismissal of the narrator, who she does not realize is Jewish, calling her a "shiksa" and other derogatory terms. What does being Jewish mean to the narrator? Why did she not tell the woman she is Jewish?

About the Author

Binnie Kirshenbaum is the author of two short story collections and five novels, most recently An Almost Perfect Moment. She is a professor of fiction writing at Columbia University and lives with her husband in New York City.

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