— Tobin Harshaw, New York Times
"It used to be that all men would be tyrants if they could. Nowadays, or so it would seem from Mark Greenside's collection of short fiction, men are struggling just to get a word in edgewise, and maybe catch a ball game once in a while. Consider the very funny first story, 'What Is It With Women, Anyhow?' — the rambling monologue of a 52-year-old lawyer who is profoundly befuddled by his second wife's infidelities, his secretary's sudden self-empowerment and his daughter's predilection for masturbating while watching “Oprah.” Other stories offer us a suburban dad who frets that his son will never be able to hit a hanging curveball (and, worse, that he will never even care), as well as a middle-aged husband who finds himself abetting his wife's sexual liberation through S&M. The problem with writing about men's insecurities is that they aren't necessarily any more interesting than women's insecurities — or your neighbor's or your butcher's. After a while, you too want these guys just to shut up and go walk the dog. For the most part, Mr. Greenside does best in the few stories in which he leaves men behind, as in “Dreamers of Dreams,” where an elderly woman stranded in a nursing home finds romance outside her window, and “Inside and Out,” set in a bordello on a slow New Year's Eve. But after such excursions to the female side of the trenches, the writer faithfully returns to more guys worrying about guy things, making us wonder why women bother with them in the first place."

 

 

— Phil Haslanger, The Capital Times (Madison, Wisconsin)
"To the degree that an author can take his readers inside the minds of his characters and then lead them back to their own minds to consider how they would react in similar situations, to that degree an author succeeds in establishing a bond with the reader.

Mark Greenside, a University of Wisconsin-Madison alumnus who now lives in California, for the most part succeeds in his new collection of short stories, 'I Saw a Man Hit His Wife.'

It's a disturbing title for a book that deals much more with inner struggles than physical confrontations. But it also reflects one of the themes running through this book — the frustration of contemporary males in trying to sort out the world around them.

No, the frustration is not an excuse for the action of the handsome, well-dressed man seated at the next table in an upscale French restaurant who suddenly smacks the woman at his table, bloodying her lip.

Rather, the frustration is in the struggle of this story's protagonist to reconcile the angry violence he and his wife witness in the restaurant as they celebrate their 12th anniversary together with the spanking she desires in their sexual relationship.

'Now nothing is simple or easy or clear,'the man in the title story says. 'My wife Sunny likes me to hit her. Not like the guy in the restaurant - she wouldn't like that and I wouldn't do it if she did. There are limits. You just have to know them for yourself and find them.' But finding them is not easy, and he resists her desires to be spanked even as she urges him to 'cross over' to a more violent sexuality.

The men in these stories work hard to fathom a world where 'nothing is simple or easy or clear.' Their daughters are more open about their sexuality than their fathers can comprehend. Their secretaries are more insistent on gaining power in an inherently unequal relationship. Their lovers often leave them struggling with the question, 'What is it with women these days?'

If many of these stories tell the tales of middle-aged men struggling to comprehend a world in transition, two stand out by offering a tender exploration of the last years of life.

Herbie and Abie are playing chess as they always do on Friday afternoon, introducing the reader to a marvelous friendship. 'You want I should tell you about Abie, 'the story ' Jersey'begins. 'Sixty years I know him. A long time... The things I could tell you.'

And in 'Dreamers of Dreams,' Greenside takes the reader inside Nancy's room in a nursing home, inside Nancy's head, conveying the loneliness and the pride that coexist in a setting that can leave people feeling like castaways.

Greenside's style varies in the dozen stories in this book, but the fascination of his characters is a constant. He raises the issues of family life in the fast-paced '90s, issues he enters from the vantage point of a man seeking to make sense of the world around him, but never in a way that belittles the struggles of those who inhabit his stories."

 

 

— Mark Hornburg, Long Story, Short, From The North Carolina Review of Books
"Mark Greenside revitalizes the short story by doing what the form does best—getting to the point. Like a great actor, Greenside can encapsulate a lifetime of emotion in one gesture, one phrase.

The reemergence of the short story—publishers' willingness to bring out collections and readers' newfound interest in actually buying and reading them-- has been one of the most heartening trends of the past couple of years. In the past few months I have picked up several collections—David Sedans' Naked, Tobias Wolff's The Night In Question, Robert Bingham's Pure Slaughter Value, Gina Berriault's Women In Their Beds, Richard Ford's Women With Men—that were more satisfying and complete reading experiences than so many recent novels that could happily have remained short stories.

With names like Richard Ford returning to the form, it's tough for a new voice to be heard. You'd have to have something original to say and you'd have to say it in an extraordinary way—you'd have to be Mark Greenside's I Saw a Man Hit His Wife. This collection is more than the hodge-podge of previously published material you can often expect in short story collections or anthologies, but instead feels designed to be a cogent argument built story by story unto its terrifying conclusion. By terrifying, I mean in the emotional sense—nothing overtly frightening happens in these tales: there are no bloody corpses, no avenging ghosts—and yet fear clings to them like moss to a tree. Walker Percy warned us that it is not war we fear, but the absence of war and the thought that nothing as dramatic as total calamity may ever happen in our lives. 'We depend upon disaster to consolidate our vision,' Don DeLillo, another master of bourgeois angst, has said. It is the numbing ordinariness of life, the daily drone of white noise, that fuels our anxiety. It is the void of ordinary life into which we dump imagined hurts, trumped-up charges, unnamed fears. Mark Greenside's characters feel these fears, and to the void they see between ordi nary life and the life of their imaginations he adds another void—that between male and female sensibilities.

The author has said that he 'came face-to-face with feminism—and lost.' It is an admission that colors each story. Feminism has forced a reevaluation of what it means to be male, and the narrative voice here is one of perpetual confusion, a blind groping for male identity in a world that has tamed the alpha-male.

If, like a novel, a collection of short stories can be said to have a beginning, a middle, and an end, then this one certainly does. 'What Is It With Women, Anyhow?' opens like the comic who warms us up before the concert. Lenny Cohen, 'fifty-two, married and divorced and remarried, with two kids I can't understand' is having a problem with the women in his life. His daughter masturbates unselfconsciously in his presence, his wife uses a vibrator during sex with him, and his secretary of 12 years, Betty, is demanding he sign a contract respecting her rights. At the gym, the men confer and all agree; the world would be a better place if women were more like men. 'In no time at all we discover what we have in common: we all think about sex all the time and about doing it with anyone but our wives; we’ve all been married at least once and cheated at least once; we were all raised by mothers; have women secretaries; have had women teachers, nurses, friends, neighbors, colleagues, aunts, sisters, grandparents, nieces, and children, and none of us has a clue.'

'I Saw a Man Hit His Wife' is the centerpiece of this collection, a story that will have reviewers comparing Greenside to Raymond Carver. A man out to dinner with his wife to celebrate their twelfth anniversary sits near a beautiful and apparently well-off couple. The couple have obviously been together a long time, are laughing loudly, enjoying themselves and obviously celebrating something, perhaps an anniversary. And then he hits her. 'It all happened so quickly it was like watching a stolen kiss,' says the narrator. 'It used to be you could never, ever, under any circumstances, hit a woman. But now it's only the circumstances that count.' The narrator later admits that his wife likes him to hit her during sex, a trend he finds disturbing and confusing. 'That's the thing about boundaries,' he says. 'Once you cross them they no longer exist.' As his wife's sexual demands become more sadistic and disturbing to him, increasingly offending his sense of propriety, the narrator laments the passing of something, and feels that from now on, 'life will be simpler and sadder.'

The final of Greenside's twelve stories, 'The Silence,' closes the book with a quiet lament, as a couple confront aging and mortality in the middle of their lives, and the dissolution of the life they have come to know after the stroke of a father, the diagnosis of brain cancer for a friend, and the institutionalization of a mother. Each is so saddened to the core by the passing of time that a weekend ritual like raking leaves causes an onrush of sentimentalizing and reminiscing. As the narrator's wife reaches out to straighten his hair after a morning of raking, the gesture speaks volumes, a recognition that their lives have changed forever. 'I smile. I have on my torn Pendleton, my hair is a mess, there's mud on my pants, dirt on my face, and I'm sticky and smelly from sweat... I take her hand and hold it. I know why she touched my hair'—and why now she's looking at my mouth. I see the same things too—in her eyes, her hands, her legs, her shoulders.'

Greenside's collection could not be more honest, wiser, sadder—or better."

 

 

— Sarah Horowitz, The Jewish Bulletin
"Anthology Resounds With 'Jewish Questions,' Rhythms
Author Mark Greenside's earliest memories are of Holocaust stories. So it's no wonder that the short stories in his first published collection, 'I saw a man hit his wife,' are filled with a sense of unease.

On both his father's and his mother's sides, Greenside lost all his European relatives to the genocide.

'There's not a moment of consciousness or awareness without that loss,' says the Oakland author. 'There was a constant consciousness of death, the fragility of life and the completeness of death.'

Greenside uses different voices and perspectives throughout the book, but the characters are all connected by a sense of displacement.

For example. Nancy, the old lady in the story 'Dreamers of Dreams,' is asking the same questions as the hooker in 'Inside and Out.' These are questions of identity—questions with which Jews are very familiar. 'One of the major concerns for Jews everywhere has been 'Where do I fit in?' 'How do I fit in?'' Greenside says. 'We're living in a world now that's placeless, so we're all rootless. In some sense, the Jewish experience has become the world's experience.'

Only two stories in the collection, 'What Is It with Women, Anyhow?' and 'Jersey,' have Jewish characters. But there's a rhythm to all Greenside's prose that he describes as Hebraic. 'I associate it with my bar mitzvah, that up-and-down kind of sing-song,' he says.

When asked for an example of this Hebraic rhythm, he chants, 'Barchu et Adonai hamvorach,' the blessing before reading the Torah. You can hear this rhythm in his description of Grand Central Station in 'Father's Day':
'Crazy people, wackos, weirdos, loonies, junkies, refugees from every sore and wound in the world, screeching at each other, babbling in words, sounds, grunts, gestures, pushing, humping, bumping, shoving for this reason or that or no reason.'

Greenside feels his tendency to reverse word order is linked to the cadence of Yiddish. 'Most people would say, 'It is already too late' where I would say, 'Already it is too late.''

The lushness in Greenside's stories is another aspect of the book that he says is rooted in Jewish culture. 'The book deals very much with the physical world, and I think a consciousness of physical pleasure and sensuality is something Jews appreciate,' he says.

The author's interest in matters Jewish dates from the time, nearly 20 years ago, when he started writing. At the time he began a self-exploration that included looking at his religion. He discovered his pride in his own culture, in Jews' 'respect for intellectualism and ideas' and 'bizarre ability to mock everything'—a talent he feels is 'funny and serious at the same time.'

Greenside has a degree in history and political science from the University of Wisconsin, and he attended San Francisco State University's creative writing program. He now teaches political science at Oakland's Laney College and creative writing at the North Berkeley Senior Center.

His interest in writing began about 19 years ago when he took students from his history class at Oakland's Merritt College to a local seniors' residence. There they heard oral histories told by individuals who had lived through the very events the students were studying.

'I began to hear a lot of stories from these people who were bright, articulate and funny,' Greenside says of the seniors. 'It was kind of humbling. You tend to think everything is singular, unique. You start to hear these stories and you realize it's not.

'They've all been in love; they've all done things they're proud of. That's one of the things that got me into writing: the repeatability of emotions.'

 

 

   

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