Single’s debut collection of four short stories follows a 40-year-old Portland, Oregon, man looking to trade his bachelorhood for a serious relationship.
This book features recurring and perpetually single narrator Rob, who amusingly details his life. In the opening title story, he and his pal Chris meet in a bar with Chris’ friends Joe and Stacy. Rob, fascinated by the fact that Stacy is a stripper, vividly recalls when he “nearly got involved with a stripper.” At a strip club six months earlier, he’d felt a connection to a dancer onstage, and though they barely spoke, he’d fallen in love and fantasized holding her in his arms. In the short but sweet “A Short Walk with Erica,” middle-aged Rob is in college, regularly walking to the school cafeteria with the younger Erica. On the last day of the term, Rob, knowing he may never see Erica again, tries to make the most out of what’s likely their final walk together. Rob is love-struck once again in “Aphrodite’s Grill,” in which he sits in a bar and slowly works up the nerve to ask out the bartender. The book’s final tale, “All the Things I Shouldn’t Say,” is also its longest. The entire story is Rob’s extended, blatantly honest online dating profile. He openly discusses his failed 9-year marriage and his subsequent single life. After risking unprotected sex with a woman who admits to having an STD, Rob constantly fears spotting signs of disease on his body. While he acknowledges his frankness may turn away potential dates, he’s merely trying to present the truest version of himself that he possibly can.
Single employs a conversational writing style in all the stories. Rob, for example, ends his sentences with “you know?” or seemingly works out descriptions as he goes along: “She’s standing next to one of those three-candles-in-one, candlestick holder, things. A candelabrum, right?” This approach gives Rob some much-needed personality in the first three stories because readers learn very little about the man himself. But the final tale delves into his background, which includes an abusive father. The narrator sometimes comes across as sexist, like when he implies women are manipulative, expecting men “to do all the approaching” while keeping mace handy for any of the scary ones. But he counters these notions with even less complimentary ones for men. In one instance, he says a woman interested in great sex, a meaningful relationship, and a family doesn’t even need a man. Moreover, Rob is progressively more likable, especially as a divorcé in “All the Things I Shouldn’t Say.” This is the collection’s funniest, most insightful entry, even as Rob is worried about a potential STD. Nevertheless, his narration throughout the book is humorously dry. When trying to uncomplicate his love life, he muses, “I think going to Europe was my way to remove love from the sex equation. I’d give you a formula with square roots and division signs, but I haven’t got it all figured out.” One can only hope that someone will respond to his dating profile.
An imperfect lead admirably and entertainingly searches for love.