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In the Land of Men

In the Land of Men

by Antonya Nelson, Nelson

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In this powerful collection of stories, Antonya Nelson portrays women whose lives have slipped loose from their moorings and the men who can't really anchor them. Here we meet Roxanne, the tomboy who consistently chooses men who are not her equal; the loving Marta, whose husband keeps a separate house where he retreats when married life overwhelms him; and Bebe, a


In this powerful collection of stories, Antonya Nelson portrays women whose lives have slipped loose from their moorings and the men who can't really anchor them. Here we meet Roxanne, the tomboy who consistently chooses men who are not her equal; the loving Marta, whose husband keeps a separate house where he retreats when married life overwhelms him; and Bebe, a married mother of two teenagers who leaves it all behind when her lover comes on a motorcycle to claim her. With painfully keen perception, Nelson creates stories that linger in the mind long after they are read, and which create a unique view of relations between the sexes in the small towns and big cities of America.

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
Edward Allen The New York Times Book Review Wonderful stories. What holds them together...is...Nelson's unsentimental generosity toward her characters, her perfectionism about detail, and...her understanding that unhappiness is not tragic — it's just a fact of life.

Charles Dickinson author of With or Without Children, lovers, the dispossessed, the heartbroken, the purely evil, Antonya Nelson inhabits them all with the ease of a new master.

Charles Baxter author of Believers Women under the gaze of men gaze back in these vivid and memorable stories, which might have been written by a passionate anthropologist interested in the odd habits of men: their violent intimacies, their need to keep everything compartmentalized, their occasional, painful lucidity.

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
The land of men in the 10 edgy and unforgettable stories in Nelson's second collection (after The Expendables ) has less to do with setting--here, variously Chicago, New Mexico and Colorado--than a state of mind, defined by violence or the hint of it. The lead and title story sets the tone as the narrator, discovering that her three younger brothers have included her in their plot to avenge her rape, finds herself drawn to the idea of retribution. Capable of conflicting emotions and actions, Nelson's characters, most of whom are female, convince, whether they are children antagonizing one another at a wedding reception, adolescents attempting suicide (and, in some instances, succeeding) or women contemplating murder. In a Grand Guignol atmosphere lit by flashes of keen irony, the expected is turned inside out, as in ``Inertia,'' where stasis equals life and movement signals death, or ``How Much We Could See,'' in which Chicago, the potentially dangerous ``city of big shoulders,'' proves freer of violence and threat than the small town of Telluride, Colo. (Feb.)
Library Journal
In her stories Nelson beautifully portrays the emotional terrain of women, exploring how they feel about their relationships with family members, spouses, lovers, other women, and pets. Nelson's prose is simple, her plots engaging, and her insights penetratingly accurate. In one story, Rory portrays his relationship with Marta ``as a symbiotic one in which he supplied the cloud and she the silver lining.'' In another, Daniel describes the disintegration of his marriage: ``These were the subterranean regions, the underground rivers that continued to move, whatever may have seemed stable and inert above.'' Regina, a 32-year-old divorcee, wonders whether she's ever been in love and what steps she should take toward achieving human warmth after having to rebuff the advances of another woman. Although men comprise an integral part of these stories, the perspective is very much female. Recommended for public libraries.-- Kimberly G. Allen, Na tional Assn. of Home Builders Lib., Washington, D.C.
Kirkus Reviews
Nelson's first story collection, The Expendables, won the 1990 Flannery O'Connor Award for Short Fiction, and her second is even better—tough-talking, provocative tales that plunge deep into the heart of love and solitude. Male or female, regardless of age, Nelson's protagonists are a standoffish, unblinking bunch. In her arresting title story, a Chicago waitress—whose three teenaged brothers have captured her rapist and insist on a confrontation—stares out at the snow and reflects on the misnomer of justice in an unjust world; in "The Happy Day," the unhappy assistant to a wedding photographer compulsively shoots images of blinking brides, weeping flower- girls, and puking best men to paste up on her walk-up apartment walls; in "Fire Season," a petty thief stands at the bedroom door of a rich, teenaged one-night stand and wonders why he's unable to rob her; and in "Goodbye, Midwest," the grown daughter of intellectual snobs guiltily ignores the wedding announcements that regularly arrive from her childhood best friend. Divided between urban, middle-class settings and the isolated adobe dwellings of the Southwest, Nelson's stories share an aridity of vision and terseness of language that refresh and clarify in spite of some depressing themes and inexplicably abrupt conclusions. Her isolated, uncompromising men and women, hungering for human contact yet feeling powerless to change, still take private satisfaction in the slight, everyday revelations of the soul, and find a separate peace more durable than romantic happy endings. Sharp-edged American fiction, by a very promising writer.

Product Details

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5.40(w) x 8.50(h) x 0.70(d)

Read an Excerpt

From Chapter One: IN THE LAND OF MEN

Since my attack last year, when I get off work at night one of my brothers is always waiting for me in our family car, the rusted boat, engine idling, double-parked on Halsted right outside Mizzi's, where I wait tables. No one asked them to do this and we don't talk about it, but when I emerge from the steamy restaurant into the biting, steel cold of Chicago, my heart offers up a grateful sigh at the presence of one or the other of my brothers' placid, safe faces.

Tonight they all three show. Sam, nineteen, the oldest boy but four years younger than me, sits on the hood with his pointed black ankle boots wedged between bumper and car. An inch of bare skin is exposed where the boots and pants cuffs don't quite meet, which is Sam's style. It is zero degrees out, according to the radio, factoring in wind chill, but Sam doesn't wear a coat.

"Too cool to feel cold?" I say.

He shells out a pittance of a smile. "Let's go." He hops off the hood to hold open the front door and presses my back with his palm. Sensing his eyes casting about protectively behind me, I catch my first whiff of something gone awry.

"I love a warm car," I say, settling in the passenger seat with my hands in front of the blowing heat vents. My other two brothers sit in the back the way the youngest always do. I say to them, "Hey."

Sam slams the driver's door and jerks us out of Park. He drives as if our transmission is not automatic, shifting into low or neutral frequently, keeping one hand active on the thin metal stick. Even as his older sister, I stay a certain nervous distance from Sam. Beneath his meticulously maintained smooth surface is a rage that can erupt and break windows or punch walls.

For a time I just ride along in the warmth, quietly losing my waitress aches. Lately I've found real comfort in these pocketlike moments of heat and peace, which can be as refreshing as deep, unconscious sleep. I breathe out, at last, hating to end it, but knowing I must. "So, what's the occasion?"

Sam grimly says nothing, flicking his eyes to the rearview. I turn, catty-corner, to Donald. Seventeen, the worrier, he looks alarmingly pale in the passing streetlights. His hand is in a fist under his nose as he bites a fingernail, staring desperately at the sidewalk and storefronts like a trapped dog. Donald has ulcers, migraines, all the ailments symptomatic of early adulthood. Beside him, Les, the family baby, seems more rosy-cheeked than usual, as if he's siphoned off Donald's color to top his own. But even happy Les has an uncertain smile on his face and watches Sam for cues. His teeth chatter, despite the car's abundant warmth.

Without taking his eyes off the panel van in front of him, Sam says tightly, "You got any plans tonight?"

I point at my chest. "Me? You're talking to me?"

"That's right. Anything you were going to do?"

"Is something wrong?" I ask, simultaneously anxious and annoyed that they are protecting me by withholding. "Is it Dad? Has something happened to Dad?"

"No," Donald says, looking at his watch. "Time for WBN News at Nine. Pistachios and beer."

From behind me, Les pats my arm soothingly. "Dad's cool," he assures me.

Sam catches my eye and we share an older siblings' smile, as if over Les's head. "He's fine," Sam says.

"And here you guys are. So what could it be?" I sit back, relieved: My family is alive. Lesser scenarios occur to me. A surprise party. An unexpected friend waiting at the airport. A trip to the police to clear up some minor infraction before my father discovers the offense. But here we are, enclosed and fine and balanced. I enjoy, for a second, suspense's tantalizing luxury. "So when do you tell me, guys?"

Sam stops uncharacteristically at a yellow light. We rock forward with inertia, rock back. Pedestrians, loaded down with afterwork, early Christmas shopping, plunge into the crosswalks, heads ducked in irritation against the cold. Telltale forest-green Marshall Field's sacks swing from their gloved fingers. It's late and they're homeward bound. A man carries a paper funnel of flowers, shielding it with his chest, turning his back to protect this gift for some woman. Ashy snow blows up in the six-way intersection, sings along the cracks in our car doors, and the taxi in front of us decides to turn left; a signal begins flashing. Generally, this draws a heavy lean on Sam's horn, but tonight he simply waits.

"You have a decision to make," he says.

Les adds excitedly, "A very important decision. Mega-important. Man, it's big, really big. Life and death, you could say."

Sam frowns into the rearview mirror at Les, his profile so sharp and grown-up I have a sudden moment of wonder: My brother's a man. I quickly look at Donald — has he, too, crossed the line? But no, Donald has no beard, no jutting jaw, no buried rage. He shakes his young head pessimistically, eyes still glued in appeal to the passing world.

The light changes.

"We got your perp," Sam says to me as we take off again and slide around the taxi. He shifts his eyes momentarily from the road to my face. He's a dangerously handsome man, the family heartbreaker, and his direct gaze has a life — volition, power — of its own.

"My perp?"

"Perpetrator!" Les shouts gleefully. "We got your perpetrator! That guy! He's in our trunk."

Copyright © 1992 by Antonya Nelson

Meet the Author

Antonya Nelson teaches creative writing at the University of Houston, and is the award-winning author of three novels and four short story collections. Her stories have appeared in The New Yorker, Harper's, and The Best American Short Stories. She divides her time among Texas, Colorado, and New Mexico.

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