THE BOOK: The Man Back There and Other Stories
PUBLISHED IN: 2008
THE AUTHOR: David Crouse
THE PUBLISHER: Sarabande Books. Sarabande Books is one of the leading small press publishers in the United States, known for their attention to detail and commitment to literary publishing.
SUMMARY: The Man Back There is about a certain kind of male psychology. Although on the surface the men in these stories might seem to be quite different—one is a farmer, another a divorced dog catcher, another a science fiction fanatic, another a United States senator—each of them suffers from an inability to confront his particular past. To look that past in the face would be admitting, that person who did those things, that person is me. When I was writing these particular stories it struck me that there was something particularly male about that inability of these characters to do that. I’m not exactly sure what that is, but it might have to do with machismo and it might have to do with a kind of bruised male romanticism.
THE BACK STORY: These stories didn’t spring out of a specific experience and I’m very glad that they didn’t because they’re dark pieces. I enjoy making things up so whatever I write is often developed from the smallest, dullest scraps of my life and the lives of those around me. There’s that old Flaubert quote about living life peacefully so one can be dangerous in one’s work. But I do think I was a little obsessed with these stories and then when they were finished and the book was published I felt the relief of being able to say good-bye to these slightly despicable people.
WHY THIS TITLE? The Man Back There refers to a specific story in the book, but it also references the act of looking backward over your shoulder at the person you used to be, the person you still might be too. All the characters in the book do this in one way or another and the title felt like a good way to get at that concept. It also has a slight air of menace and mystery and I liked that.
Looking back in anger, the men in David Crouse’s second collection of short fiction acknowledge “the simple fact that there [is] danger in the world,” that it sometimes resides in their own fists, clenching and unclenching. Like Barry, the loveless, regretful dogcatcher in “The Castle on the Hill,” characters in The Man Back There (Sarabande) also give in to bouts of tenderness. Crouse makes you believe, if not in miracles, then in life after the implosion of the heart. –O, The Oprah Magazine
In the introduction to David Crouse’s The Man Back There and Other Stories (winner of the 2007 Mary McCarthy Prize), judge Mary Gaitskill writes, “I chose these stories because they made me feel.” However, given the depravity and loneliness, and the penchant toward violence and criminal behavior in Crouse’s work, it seems an odd, almost obtuse, observation—kind of like saying you picked your prom dress simply because it looked so bad on everyone else who tried it on, and not because it’s such a beautiful match with your figure or made from some fabulous material. Of course, that’s a flawed simile, especially once Gaitskill clarifies her opening remark: “By ‘feel’ I don’t mean that I felt a particular emotion, I mean that the outcome of every story here mattered to me. I felt the characters like I would feel a stranger in a room or on a bus with me, that is, with an irrational sympathy more animal than moral in its nature.” In other words, the characters’ pervading depravity and loneliness only makes them all the more human and exactly like the rest of us. A remarkable gathering of short fiction, the nine stories of David Crouse’s second collection don’t just add to his literary resume: They go a long way toward defining it. – Barn Owl Review
Crouse follows his Flannery O’Connor award–winning Copy Cats with this moody dirge of nine deeply felt stories, the winner of the Mary McCarthy Prize. In The Forgotten Kingdom, Denny, a technical-support operator for a video-game company that’s lingering on the edge of death, is unsure why he keeps showing up uninvited at his former girlfriend’s house—maybe to hurt her or make her feel the emptiness that plagues his own life, or maybe, he considers, he was just a bad person. Another borderline stalker, a lonely, unambitious animal-control officer, reappears at his ex-wife’s house in The Castle on the Hill, where she is now remarried and having a party. The title story finds a couple, Sharon and Sweets, stumbling shakily out of a bar after Sweets gets in a fight with Sharon’s insolent ex; although Sharon imagines he is defending her honor, Sweets has his own motivation. Crouse digs into dark places, and while readers may cringe, the author’s humane handling of his troubled, psychically scarred characters renders their pain authentic and universal, even when their actions are questionable. – Publishers Weekly
AUTHOR PROFILE: David Crouse recently moved to the Seattle area after recently living in Alaska and rural Indiana. He’s recently finished a novel, Bloodless, about a survivor of human trafficking, and a new collection of short fiction about Alaska.
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WHERE ELSE TO BUY IT: Amazon and any physical bookstore.