Tobin Harshaw, New York
"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
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
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 bestgetting to the point. Like a great actor, Greenside
can encapsulate a lifetime of emotion in one gesture, one phrase.
The reemergence of the short storypublishers' 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 collectionsDavid 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 Menthat 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 wayyou'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
sensenothing overtly frightening happens in these tales: there
are no bloody corpses, no avenging ghostsand 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 voidthat between
male and female sensibilities.
The author has said that he 'came face-to-face with feminismand
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;
weve 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
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 tooin her eyes,
her hands, her legs, her shoulders.'
Greenside's collection could not be more honest, wiser, sadderor
Sarah Horowitz, The Jewish
"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
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 identityquestions 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
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