YOU CAN KISS THIS BOY GOODBYE: Eight Stories and a Novella by Marvin Elkoff

YOU CAN KISS THIS BOY GOODBYE: Eight Stories and a Novella

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KIRKUS REVIEW

Elkoff isn't on especially original ground in this collection: his variations on the comic awfulness of middle-class/Jewish male-menopause carry echoes of Stanley Elkin, Philip Roth, Joseph Heller, and many others. And you'll find serious problems with form in this first-published fiction: stories that end abruptly, that are mere sketches, that go nowhere. Still, despite all, there's an authoritative, grimly zesty talent undeniably at work here--even as Elkoff dives into the most familiar whiplashings of midlife crisis. Two very short, connected stories explore boozy (but genuine) male friendships among marginal literary types in the Hamptons--as death comes to claim the more alcoholic among them. Several stories capture the wretched theatricality of marriages reduced to violence and/or due process: a wife suing her husband for forging a check (he totes a pistol in retailiation); a husband using quiet logic (while punching his fist through the bathroom door) to convince his prematurely gray-haired wife that she eschews hair-coloring out of hatred for him. The two weakest stories touch on that most overworked of syndromes: the middle-aged man's disillusionment with success (""we all become money machines"") and his search for new frontiers--in youthful lifestyle and sexual renaissance. And then there are three related pieces (two of them bracketed as a novella, ""The Crazy Lows"") about Teddy Low, an ad-man who discovers ""the joys of viciousness"" when he ""decides to do terrible things to everyone who had ever hurt him"": he goes on a buying spree, using the name of a pathologically penny-pinching, secretly rich colleague; he ruins his orthodox-Jewish landlord's life (""Pig Starkman! I shall render you unto lard!"") by branding him as a PLO sympathizer; he goes near-certifiably bonkers. So, urged by a psychiatrist to confront his Philadelphia childhood, Teddy finds himself retangled with his rage-ful father--who has, with senility, gone over the edge into violence (leading to an over-contrived, melodramatic finale). And following this wild nightmare-farce--as if to bring it down to earth--there's a more naturalistic, first-person reminiscence which seems to be about this same Teddy: about his parents' ambivalent reactions (their hallmark was ""shrewdness without subtlety"") to his need, as a teenager, for a back operation. True, you'll have been this way before. And Elkoff has a lot to learn about shaping a story. But the gifts on display here--sharp, quick narration; laceratingly on-target dialogue--are not to be sneezed at, and connoisseurs of darkly comic fiction will not want to miss this limited, yet impressive, debut.

Pub Date: May 1st, 1981
Publisher: Wyndham/Simon & Schuster