Synopsis: Series of nine short-stories published before Perlman really hit the big time with “Three Dollars” and then “Seven Types of Ambiguity”. Not badly written, but just not to my taste.
My Take: The way I remember it (and it could have course been completely different for everyone else), the mid-90s were a strangely depressing time. The Cold War was over, but instead of celebrating the lifting of this looming an existential threat, the Western world seemed to fall into a crisis of meaning. At a time when academics were proclaiming ‘The End of History’, people seemed to start asking “What’s the point?”. The great political and ideological struggles seemed to have been fought and people were left to contemplate a boring life spent climbing the corporate ladder. Personal angst flowed into the void created be the removal of political tension. This vibe seemed to change with the arrival of a new existential/ideological challenge in the form of the Global War on Terror, but there was a brief window when cynicism and resignation seemed to pervade the public mind.
To me, “The Reasons I Won’t Be Coming” felt like it was written in the middle of this mid-90s funk. The themes of the book – soulless corporatism and hollow relationships – combined with its method of delivery – a brooding internal monologue – gave the book a bleak feel that just didn’t speak to me. The writing’s not bad (if a little monotonous at times) but it just seemed unnecessarily bleak to me. Maybe this book would have connected with me more when it was written, but the crisis of meaning that seemed to underpin the stories just didn’t seem relevant to me today.
‘Madeline, my wife, never used to wear a watch. She does now, I am told. For a long time, in a very inexact way, I had kept time for her. There was the time before we were married and the time after. There was the time before I was hospitalised and the time after. There was the time she needed me and the time after. And there is now.’
‘Why did I start with them? Why do any of us choose one company over another as an employer? The money? At the beginning they all offer more or less the same and no one know how it will go after that. I guess it is often not so much your prospects at a particular firm, because these are essentially unknowable, but whether people will think you have done well to get the job there, that determines you choice. That was largely it in my case. It was really the prestige. They gave good letterhead.’