Stahl's 1995 memoir, Permanent Midnight(detailing his life as a drug-addicted TV writer), and three novels (I, Fattythe most recent), have won him a fan base that shares his glee for the comically deviant, but even his most ardent supporters will be disappointed with this hodgepodge of thin sketches and riffs. Several pieces trade in little more than shock value. "Bunker Buster," for instance, details a homosexual tryst with Dick Cheney in the backroom of a Wyoming gun shop. Readers will also meet a hirsute midget with a vegetable fetish, a religiously devout hooker whose creative interpretation of her virginity pledge allows her to work as a prostitute, and a woman who takes her cocaine in an unorthodox manner. These characteristically perverse entries are incongruously offset with more conventional but promising fare: an account of a straitlaced dentist spontaneously running off with a teenaged girl hints at a desire to go beyond the merely eccentric, while the handful of pieces about boyhood are deeply felt, if too slight to satisfy. The book is less a collection of fully conceived stories than a repository for half-baked ideas. (July)Copyright 2007 Reed Business Information
Love Withoutby Jerry Stahl
From the bestselling author of the memoir Permanent Midnight and the novel I, Fatty comes a long-awaited collection of short stories. Jerry’s Stahl’s perverse, yet often touching tales, many of which first appeared in publications ranging from Playboy to the Pushcart Prize to Best Erotic Fiction, plumb the depths of eccentric/i>/i>/i>
From the bestselling author of the memoir Permanent Midnight and the novel I, Fatty comes a long-awaited collection of short stories. Jerry’s Stahl’s perverse, yet often touching tales, many of which first appeared in publications ranging from Playboy to the Pushcart Prize to Best Erotic Fiction, plumb the depths of eccentric romance, sex-starved adolescence, mid-life crisis, and family dysfunction. From a teenager’s tryst with a recently widowed middle-aged woman on an airplane, to a dissatisfied dentist’s attempt to find freedom on the road with a much younger woman, all the way to an intensely erotic love affair between an ex-junkie and an ex-circus midget with a sexual obsession with vegetables, this collection never fails to arouse and surprise. With a disarmingly immediate prose style, Stahl finds great eroticism, humor, and humanity in the wildest of encounters.
- Grove/Atlantic, Inc.
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By JERRY STAHL
OPEN CITY BOOKSCopyright © 2007 Jerry Stahl
All right reserved.
Chapter OneTHE AGE OF LOVE
Her husband invented panty shields.
"They're going to be very big," she told me. "Bob used to say, 'Create a need, then push the solution.'"
This was 1969. I was fourteen years old. We were sitting next to each other on a plane from Pittsburgh to San Francisco. I had no idea what she was talking about.
Doris later told me she was forty. But I couldn't tell. When I first saw her, in the airport lounge, it was from the back. She was bent over a lady in a wheelchair, giving her a goodbye kiss. By chance I gazed over at this tableau. I was instantly entranced by the view under her rising hem. My eyes followed hungrily up over the backs of her thighs, under her girdle to a thrilling darkness the mere thought of which had me craning my head right and left to see if any other passengers saw me peeking.
At fourteen, a virgin and chronic masturbator, I knew I could file away this glimpse and call up the memory of those mysterious creamy thighs for unlimited sessions of self-abuse in the months and years to come. At that age, I don't know that I expected to ever even have sex. It was enough, really, just to have actually, almost, gotten a peek of the exalted area. Which may explain my alarmwhen the woman stood up, looked my way, and turned out to be my mother's age.
I wasn't sure whether I should still be excited. Or if the lines in her face should somehow cancel out the thrill I felt at nearly seeing between her legs. She wore butterfly glasses, another Mom-like detail, and a neck-scarf printed over with little penguins. It was all very confusing. I felt my face flush into hot red blotches. For the first time in my life I wondered if I might be perverted. Though I wasn't entirely sure what a pervert was.
To disguise my discomfort, I pretended to read my hardback copy of The Call of the Wild. It was a Bar Mitzvah gift from my grandmother. By now I was convinced the entire waiting room was staring at me, that everyone in the immediate vicinity was whispering about the young boy who got a boner looking up a skirt that might have been his mom's.
It would not have surprised me, at that moment, if some kind of Erection Police swooped into gate number four, guns drawn, led by some burly old veteran with a bullhorn who broadcast the situation to the folks on hand. "It's all right, ladies and gentlemen. It's all right.... We've got a lad here who seems to be aroused by the sight of a heinie that could belong to his mother.... We'll take care of it, folks. We've seen a thousand punks like him."
When I ventured to glance up again, I noticed that she'd been joined by a couple her age. I knew at once that the woman was her sister, and the man probably her brother-in-law. Both ladies wore their reddish hair brushed up in the back and down in the front, like Lucille Ball. The husband, who seemed to be a real joker, sported a short-sleeve Steelers shirt and arms so dense with hair I could see it from my seat. I wondered, for the millionth time, when my arms would start sprouting such a crop. Until recently, I hadn't been hairy anywhere, and it tormented me.
The husband leaned down to the old lady and made a face-bug-eyed, tongue-wagging-and both his wife and the lady I'd peeked at broke into gales of helpless, showy laughter. Except that my lady, as I'd already begun to call her, did not really seem to be enjoying herself. She chain-smoked, she kept looking all over the place, and her two hands never stopped touching, as if the one had to constantly remind the other that it was not alone.
When our glances met, for the briefest second, there was a nervous, almost hysterical quality to her grin. Her lips made a show of mirth, but her eyes glimmered with a desperation I could recognize. It was all so clear.
She's not married. They're sorry for her. She's joking around to hide how bad she feels.
Of course, I knew that feeling. That's how I felt all the time. As I sat there, pretending to read Jack London, spying on Mr. and Mrs. Hairy Arms, on old Moms in the wheelchair, and on my secret soul mate, the Unhappy Girdle Woman, this sense of knowing exactly how she felt-how different, how ashamed, how uncomfortable-was absolutely overwhelming.
I didn't even realize I was staring until The Call of the Wild clattered to the floor.
There were a few reasons my parents wanted to send me to California. But only one that the three of us could actually speak about. My sister Trudy had moved to Berkeley the previous year with her husband, Vance, and everybody thought it would be nice if I went for a couple weeks to visit.
The truth behind this sentiment was not so nice. My parents hated their son-in-law. "Vance!" my mother had spit right up to the minute of their wedding. "What kind of name is Vance?"
It was her habit, when she loathed someone-which she did with alarming frequency-to find some innocuous detail and rant about it as the source of her boundless repulsion. "Forget that the boy looks like a sneak-thief with those little eyes of his," she'd holler from the bedroom. "Forget that he said from day one that he had no intention of getting a job. Forget that it broke your father's heart the day that thing married your sister.... What kind of a name is Vance?"
My sister had upped and married him, at twenty, after a two-year engagement to Larry, a brilliant, suit-wearing pre-law student from Syracuse my parents both adored. Larry was perfect son-in-law material.
In my twelve-year-old naïveté, even I did not understand what Trudy was thinking. Until one day, during one of our long-distance chats, she told me she broke it off when she realized Larry's hair was thinning. "I just didn't want to wake up beside a bald man in a suit," she said. "Would you?" I said that I wouldn't. Vance wore a Che Guevara T-shirt and holey bellbottoms every day. He also supported an enormous ball of frizzy hair he called his "Jew-fro," and refused to cut it off for their wedding until my father gave him five hundred dollars. Over the years, the "haircut deal" proved another perennial in my mother's boudoir-shouting repertoire.
The truth is, my mother's bedroom habits were another reason for this trip. Along with the reconnaissance aspect-my parents' refusal to visit my sister now that she'd married Vance, and wanted to send me out to check up on them-was the fact that my mother had started "staying in" again.
"Staying in" was family code for not getting out of bed. For not washing up or getting dressed or doing much of anything but staying horizontal and shouting out peculiar comments or requests for food. My mother would lay in the dark for days at a time. After a while the room grew thick with her scent, a close, private muskiness that drove my father, if he was in town, to sleep downstairs on the couch. When he was on the road-he sold novelty items, supplying "Joke & Gag" stores as far away as Duluth or Buffalo-it was just me and Mom.
No matter what, during daylight hours, it fell to me to do bedroom duty. "Bring me a peach!" she'd croak from the pungent dark. If I had a friend over after school, I'd smart from embarrassment at having to stop playing and hop to for this creepy, disembodied voice. Upstairs, with the drapes shut against the afternoon sun, she would throw back the blankets, instantly filling the air with great gusts of Momness. "Wanna cuddle? Wanna play Mommy's little boy like we used to?"
"I didn't know anybody else was home," the friend would say when I came back down. Then he'd look at me in that way people look at you when something's off, when something's wrong in a way that you don't want to talk about. "Is that your mother? Is she sick, is that why it smells?" And whatever I'd say, whatever I'd come up with as a cover, they'd always treat me a little differently the next day in school. I didn't have a lot of friends.
Sometimes a whole year went by without my mother "staying in." But now she was doing it again. And it was worse than ever. My father told me she'd be going "on vacation" soon. Which meant another visit to Western Psychiatric.
This seemed like a good time to get on a plane and visit Trudy in California.
When we finally boarded, it didn't even surprise me that she was 21-F and I was 21-E. She had the window and I had the aisle. Long before we took off, the heat from her leg was so intense that I leaned her way, feigning boyish fascination in the weedy runway, just to see if I was imagining the oven-like warmth or if she were really burning. What I felt, when I let my right thigh graze accidentally against her left, was an even higher centigrade than I imagined.
My seatmate pressed back at once. As possessed as I was by sudden interest in runway activities, she edged against me and craned her neck to take in the cart piled high with Samsonite. Still not speaking, we both pretended utter absorption in the sluggish hand-to-hand loading of each suitcase into the hold.
I could hardly believe what was happening. My whole body shook with excitement. I had to clamp my jaw shut to keep my teeth from chattering. Drawing on some heretofore undreamed of reservoir of nerve, a reserve of untested manliness, I risked still more pressure.
This time my maneuver was blatant. I not only jammed my limb lengthwise against hers, I let my hand dip casually off the armrest, until my little finger dangled against her thigh. To my astonishment, her response was just as bold. The flesh of her hip under her drip-dry dress seemed to stream right through my stiff white Levi's. But that was nothing. Still facing the porthole-baggage-handling was just so fascinating!-she settled her left hand atop my right, pushing downward, so that my initial, timid exploration was hurtled instantly into another dimension.
For a moment, I had to hold my breath to fight off the excited tremors that threatened to slide me out of my seat in a complete swoon. My neck was so stiff I thought it would snap. I had my hand up her wash 'n' wear dress. Clamped between her warm, thin thighs, my fingers jammed against what felt like a moist slice of toast. Toast wrapped in nylon.
To counter this dizzy arousal, I drew back from the window and studied the unlikely object of my desire. Up close, I noticed, her scalp was visible through her auburn hair. I didn't think that women could go bald, yet had to wonder if she might be even older than I suspected. Her hands, too, were less than pretty, the backs showing raised veins that looked puffy and a little blue. Yet even if there was something old ladyish about her, it didn't matter. I'd never been so close to touching a girl-let alone a grown woman-"down there" as I was now. A state of affairs made all the more tempestuous by the fact neither of us acknowledged what we were doing.
Our limbs now jammed together from flank to ankle, I took the liberty of canting my face still nearer, until I could breathe her heat, the way you would a humidifier placed in the room to fend off croup. She smelled vaguely of camphor, an odor I recognized from having to rub Bag Balm on my schnauzer's teats after she'd suckled puppies. Camphor was Bag Balm's main ingredient, and I found myself stirred anew at the prospect of rubbing the pungent emollient on my neighbor at first sign of a flare-up. If the truth be told, I'd even been a little aroused at rubbing the stuff on Queenie. But this was better. This was a thousand times better, and we hadn't even taken off yet.
By takeoff, I'd managed to hook a finger over the elastic lip of her girdle, somewhere in the waist area, engaging a patch of skin that felt taut and fiery.
It was then I noticed that I had an audience.
One row up, across the aisle, a heavyset old man in bifocals was twisted completely around in his seat. He stared back at us, horrified. Unable to peel his eyes from my seatmate's parted knees. You could tell he wanted to say something, but didn't know what. He kept opening his mouth, then closing it again, like a goldfish.
I decided to look nonchalant. As nonchalant as any fourteen-year-old with half his arm up the dress of a woman old enough to be his mother could. This just made the old guy more furious. He tore off his glasses and scowled. He began clearing his throat, very loudly, all the while keeping his irate gaze fixed on my offending paw, I began to fear someone else would notice. I imagined how they'd turn around, somebody would see them, then they'd start staring, and so on, until finally the whole plane was shouting and pointing. For all I knew, the stewardess could arrest me, the captain could drag me off to some secret airplane cell, maybe behind the toilet, where I'd stay locked up until we landed in San Francisco and the FBI scooped me up to ship me back to Pittsburgh. I could already hear my mother, barking down from the bedroom to my Dad when she saw me on the news. "Herman, I always knew that boy was sick!"
To my infinite relief, the gaping senior finally turned away. But no sooner did I relax than he spun back around, this time accompanied by the apple-cheeked crone to his right. Side by side, they looked like the Wilsons, the next-door neighbors on Dennis the Menace. If Mr. and Mrs. Wilson caught Dennis the Menace masturbating, I was sure, they'd have worn the same looks of shock and disappointment.
As I stared back, I felt like two different people-cracked by the opposing entities that had slugged it out inside me my whole life. The split was clearest in school. From first grade on, straight As were matched by straight Fs in discipline. Watching the shocked old man and his wife, the A-making half of me was mortified. But the F-half would have liked nothing better than to cause a couple of heart attacks.
"Bob never cared," she said.
I was so stunned to hear her speak that my hand popped free. For a second I just sat there, staring at the thin red band where the elastic had bit into my wrist. Then I eased under her dress again, like a small animal heading for its burrow.
She turned from the window with a little smile. Her tone had been matter of fact. But when she looked at me she seemed to get nervous again. Her face broke into the expression she wore with the people at the airport, like she was just about to laugh or scream and had no idea which it would be.
"Oh sorry," she said. "Bob was the husband. I'm Doris."
"Doris," I repeated, like a man mouthing an unfamiliar language. Up close her eyes were a startling blue. "I'm, uh, Larry," I lied, and for some reason her face relaxed.
I glanced back at the fuming seniors, but, to my relief, they'd turned toward the front again.
Doris checked, too, then aimed those strange eyes back at me.
"What I'm saying, Bob never cared," she began again. "About people, whatever, what they thought. Like when he went to see his project supervisor at Johnson & Johnson to pitch them on shields. Bob invented them, you know. Panty shields were his baby all the way."
She stopped, awaiting my reaction, though I was still fuzzy on the particulars. I pictured something like gladiators used to fend off spears, only smaller, and lodged somewhere south of the border. Then my fingers made their way back to the toast-barrier, and Doris smiled.
"That's right. That's one of the originals. I still have all the prototypes. It's my way of keeping him here, with me. I think he would have wanted it that way."
Again she awaited my reaction, again I was afraid I came up short. "That's ... that's beautiful," I said. It seemed like the right time to quote Rod McKuen or something. My sister'd given me one of his books for my last birthday, but all I could remember was the title. "Listen to the Warm," I said.
Excerpted from LOVE WITHOUT by JERRY STAHL Copyright © 2007 by Jerry Stahl. Excerpted by permission.
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"Love Without" is a book I've owned for awhile now and I finally got the chance to read it. It's not your average short story collection, these stories are cruel, sweaty, dirty and sometimes vile. Of the eleven stories in the book, there was really only one that I didn't enjoy. "Lil Dickens", a satire about Dick Cheney, just didn't hit the mark. A few of my favorites were: Twilight of the Stooges Pure Finnegan's Waikiki The Somnambulist's Wife If you like Chuck Palahniuk and/or that kind of craziness ( I do), you would probably enjoy reading "Love Without".
Jerry Stahl is a unique writer, one that will shock your socks off, make you feel as though you should put brown paper over the cover of the book so that no one will know you're reading it, and definitely reserve participating in his stories in secret private places. BUT, the man can write short stories more original in content and craftsmanship than most anyone around. This collection of eleven stories covers a large span of his career and when grouped together in the manner in which his publisher has placed them, they shock, entertain, tickle, horrify, and in general provide come of the strangest exploration of human borderline behavior ever written! Meet Miss Chatty Cheeks, a woman of advanced years who abuses cocaine through an 'original' portal Doris (an older woman) and early teen virgin Bob and the physical encounter they share in their assigned seats while flying across America Puray, a chubby blond small person (AKA midget) who has a flair for using braised carrots in a most bizarre fashion Lorraine and Mr. Carrigan who share an apartment wall with surprises Vice President Dick Cheney in a sadomasochistic encounter with a fellow gun aficianado in the back room of a guns and ammo shop and a religiously challenged prostitute convinced her services are acts of charity. Some would call these stories smarmy at best, but that would be ignoring the superb writing of this fine author. He knows what he is about, loves to tantalize the reader with tales that border on hallucinations, and yet he rounds up these stories with such skill and craftsmanship that they hold the readers blushing attention. He may not be the first author to enter the realm of the bawdy, but he is the equal of many of the greats who have lasted through time with their naughty little tales. He is outrageous AND he is gifted! Grady Harp