by Dan Chaon
From the Trade Paperback edition.
From the Trade Paperback edition.
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Safety ManSafety Man is all shriveled and puckered inside his zippered nylon carrying tote, and taking him out is always the hardest part. Sandi is disturbed by him for a moment, his shrunken face, and she averts her eyes as he crinkles and unfolds. She has a certain type of smile ready in case anyone should see her inserting the inflator pump into his backside; there is a flutter of protective embarrassment, and when a car goes past she hunches over Safety Man's prone form, sheilding his not-yet-firm body from view. After a time, he begins to fill out--to look human.
Safety Man used to be a joke. When Sandi and her husband, Allen, had moved to Chicago, Sandi's mother had sent the thing. Her mother was a woman of many exaggerated fears, and Sandi and Allen couldn't help but laugh. They took turns reading aloud from Safety Man's accompanying brochure: Safety Man--the perfect ladies' companion for urban living! Designed as a visual deterrent, Safety Man is a life-size simulated male that appears one hundred eighty pounds and six feet tall, to give others the impression that you are protected while at home alone or driving in your car. Incredibly real-seeming, with positionable latex head and hands and air-brushed facial highlights, handsome Safety Man has been field-tested to keep danger at bay!
"Oh, I can't believe she sent this," Sandi had said. "She's really slipping."
Allen lifted it out of its box, holding it by the shoulders like a Christmas gift sweater. "Well," he said. "He doesn't have a penis, anyway. It appears that he's just a torso."
"Ugh!" she said, and Allen observed its wrinkled, bog man face dispassionately.
"Now, now," Allen said. He was a tall, soft-spoken man, and was more amused by Sandi's mother's foibles than Sandi herself was. "You never know when he might come in handy," and he looked at her sidelong, gently ironic. "Personally," he said, "I feel safer already."
And they'd laughed. Allen put his long arm around her shoulder and snickered silently, breathing against her neck while Safety Man slid to the floor like a paper doll.
Now that Allen is dead, it doesn't seem so funny anymore. Now that she is a widow with two young daughters, Safety Man has begun to seem entirely necessary, and there are times when she is in such a hurry to get him out of his bag, to get him unfolded and blown up that her hands actually tremble. Something is happening to her.
There are fears she doesn't talk about. There is an old lady she sees at the place where she often eats lunch. "O God, O God," the lady will say, "O Jesus, sweet Jesus, my Lord and Savior, what have I done?" And Sandi watches as the old woman bows her head. The old woman is nicely dressed, about Sandi's mother's age, speaking calmly, good posture, her gloved hands clasped in front of her chef's salad.
And there is a man who follows Sandi down the street and keeps screaming, "Kelly!" at her back. He thinks she is Kelly. "Baby," he calls. "Do you have a heart? Kelly, I'm asking you a question! Do you have a heart?" And she doesn't turn, she never gets a clear look at his face, though she can feel his body not far behind her.
Sandi is not as desperate as these people, but she can see how it is possible.
Since Allen died, she has been worrying about going insane. There is a history of it in her family. It happened to her uncle Sammy, a religious fanatic who'd ended his own life in the belief that Satan was planting small packets of dust in the hair behind his ears. Once, he'd told Sandi confidentially, he'd thrown a packet of dust on the floor of his living room, and suddenly the furniture began attacking him. It flew around the room,...
About the Author-
Dan Chaon is the acclaimed author of Fitting Ends and Other Stories. He was anthologized in Best American Short Stories 1996 and The Pushcart Prize 2000. He has been published in such magazines as Story, Ploughshares, and Triquarterly, and has received many prizes and honors including a grant from the Ohio Arts Council. He lives in Ohio with his wife and children. He is currently at work on his first novel.
From the Hardcover...
June 11, 2001
In the 12 quietly accomplished stories of his second collection, Chaon explores the complicated geography of human relationships, from the unintentional failures and minute betrayals of daily existence to the numbing grief caused by abandonment, disappearance or death. Specific and disquieting absences—an uncle who killed himself, a mother who vanished, a friend who was kidnapped—haunt the protagonists, and a series of metaphoric and literal stand-ins take the place of what's missing. In "Safety Man," a dummy intended for crime deterrence—propped in the passenger seat, it looks like a male companion—becomes a kind of surrogate husband for a young widow, and for her daughters, an inflatable father; in "I Demand to Know Where You're Taking Me," a woman caring for her incarcerated brother-in-law's macaw comes to loathe the bird, its ugly talk transforming it into a symbol of everything wrong and incomprehensible about him. By and large, Chaon's characters are citizens of the emotional hinterlands, lonely even when surrounded: "How did people go about falling in love, getting married, having families, living their lives?" Even those who think they know the answers recognize their powerlessness, such as the father who, looking into his son's eyes, thinks, "I am aware that hatred is a definite possibility at the end of the long tunnel of parenthood, and I suspect that there is little one can do about it." And yet these stories are neither morbid nor even particularly melancholic. Singularly dedicated to an examination of all the profundity and strangeness of the quotidian, they are, in their best moments, unsettling, moving, even beautiful. (July 3)Forecast:A jacket blurb by Lorrie Moore and a five-city author tour may help sell this understated collection, which will be respectfully reviewed but may be overlooked on bookstore shelves.
March 1, 2001
Short stories don't usually get this much hype a two-page spread in the catalog, no less but Chaon has done well with his works: they have appeared in the "Distinguished Stories" section of The Pushcart Prize six times and in Best American Short Stories three times. These pieces focus on people just trying to get by in America today.
Copyright 2001 Library Journal, LLC Used with permission.
July 1, 2001
People go missing both literally and figuratively in Chaon's beautiful and insightful stories, most of which are set in small, muffled Midwest towns. In "Passengers, Remain Calm," 22-year-old Hollis, reflective and immensely kind, tries hard to let F. D., his 8-year-old nephew, know that he loves him without making F. D.'s father, who has inexplicably disappeared, look bad. Another expressive narrator is haunted by a long-held secret associated with the vanishing of his boyhood friend. As each of Chaon's profoundly thoughtful characters discovers, missing selves are just as distressing as missing people. A young father is astonished at how quickly he becomes a caricature dad, and he mourns the loss of his "real" self. In a curious reversal, the lonely boy in "Big Me" becomes obsessed with a boozy neighbor who, he fears, embodies his future. Riveting and unpredictable, each pristine tale of absence looms like the proverbial tip of the iceberg as Chaon succeeds brilliantly in suggesting the immensity and mystery floating silently below the surface of everyday life, shadowy compressions of all the complicated and contradictory thoughts and feelings that humans conceal from each other out of fear and love.(Reprinted with permission of Booklist, copyright 2001, American Library Association.)
- LORRIE MOOREBestselling author of Birds of America "ONE OF THE BEST SHORT STORY WRITERS AROUND . . .Dan Chaon's stories are funny, heartbreaking,beautifully written, and intelligently conceived."
PublisherRandom House Publishing Group
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