A review of
I Won’t Be Coming
by Elliot Perlman
“Good Morning, Again,” the first story in Elliot Perlman’s The Reasons I Won’t Be Coming, finds a man in spirited wee-hour conversation with a past lover. His regret is palpable, perhaps even poignant enough to convince her of reconciliation. That is, if he weren’t talking only to himself. A younger paramour with nasal blockage wheezes, asleep beside him. Good morning, indeed.
Perlman shapes his tales of bruised humanity from the detritus of strained relationships. Fond of psychiatric and legal terms, characters wander in a Kübler-Rossian ether, pointing out logical flaws in each other’s emotions. In the titular story, a probate officer relates the disintegration of his marriage. Speckled throughout are short lectures on the finer points of probate law, disruptions meant to stifle confusion and grief. As husband and then-wife lie awake in bed, she asks him, “Do you ever wake up with an inexplicable… panic inside you?”
Inexplicable panic, existential dread, aching solitude, and lucid despondency seethe within Perlman’s stories. Characters nonchalantly volunteer things like “I have every confidence that loneliness will be one day recognized for what it is, a pathology.” Men are wont to confess, “When we met I was more or less in the fetal position inside my suit.” Often inner monologists, characters are both vessels and gluttons for the cruelty of unremitting judgment. Yet they are not benumbed to reticence. Hopelessly conscious of embarrassing personal truths—the sort we realize, then yearn to forget—Perlman’s characters are erudite specialists of anomie.
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