Book Review for “To be a Man: Stories” by Nicole Krauss.
Summary: “In one of her strongest works of fiction yet, Nicole Krauss plunges fearlessly into the struggle to understand what it is to be a man and what it is to be a woman, and the arising tensions that have existed from the very beginning of time. Set in our contemporary moment, and moving across the globe from Switzerland, Japan, and New York City to Tel Aviv, Los Angeles, and South America, the stories in “To Be a Man” feature male characters as fathers, lovers, friends, children, seducers, and even a lost husband who may never have been a husband at all. The way these stories mirror one other and resonate is beautiful, with a balance so finely tuned that the book almost feels like a novel. Echoes ring through stages of life: aging parents and new-born babies; young women’s coming of age and the newfound, somewhat bewildering sexual power that accompanies it; generational gaps and unexpected deliveries of strange new leases on life; mystery and wonder at a life lived or a future waiting to unfold. “To Be a Man” illuminates with a fierce, unwavering light the forces driving human existence: sex, power, violence, passion, self-discovery, growing older.”
Age: Adult; Genres: Literary, Women, Fiction; Settings: Contemporary, Israel, Switzerland, South America, USA – New York, Los Angeles; Other Categories: Collection, Short Stories.
Nicole Krauss is one of those authors that I thought I had read everything she’s written, knowing full well that she doesn’t publish all that often. However, as I was looking for the list of the stories included in this collection, I found out that three of them had been published separately (unbeknownst to me). The complete list of stories included in this collection are:
- Zusya on the Roof (originally published in 2013)
- I Am Asleep but My Heart is Awake
- End Days
- Seeing Ershadi (originally published in 2018)
- Future Emergencies
- In the Garden (published in 2012 as An Arrangement of Light)
- The Husband
- To Be a Man
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again. Yes… a really good short story is a joy to behold, and Krauss certainly gives us some true joy with this collection. That said, there are a few things you’ll need to know if you’re interested in reading this book. First of all, one thing you’ll need to know about Krauss and these stories, is that there are many references to Jewish and Israeli things, as well as words in Hebrew (and sometimes, other languages), which she doesn’t bother to define for her readers. Well, almost never, because in the last story, she talks about a place whose Hebrew name means “freedom” and she doesn’t use the location’s actual name – something I’d never seen her do before now. Now, because I’m both Jewish and Israeli, I didn’t need a glossary or any footnotes, but some readers might be put off by this, and it could detract from their reading pleasure. Another thing about Krauss is that she’s not a fan of using quotation marks, or any other diacritic to distinguish dialogue from narrative, and I know that many readers just hate this. I personally prefer something to indicate someone speaking, but because of the way she writes, it doesn’t bother me when she doesn’t use them – I guess I’m used to it by now.
Which brings me to Krauss and her truly special writing style. Ephemeral is the word that comes to mind, because she always seems to slip from one thing to another so quickly in her books and stories, as if everything is temporary in her world, and what she’s trying to do is pluck these moments in time out and put them out into the universe, allowing them to have a life of their own. Mind you, I realize that the minute you write something down, it somehow becomes a permanent record, and yet, Krauss’ stories still have that feeling of motion to them. This is exactly what I adore about Krauss’ writing – it is almost a feeling of floating above or within the story, which for me makes simply exquisite reading.
Of course, the big question is, can Krauss succeed in bringing her unique style to the smaller format with the same ability that she shows in her full-length novels? The answer to this is yes and no. For me, I think what makes a good short story is that it feels complete and whole, and that nothing else is needed to be said. For the most part, I did get this from these stories, although there were a couple of them that left me wanting more. To be precise, I would have loved a whole book just on the story “The Husband” because the plot seems to lend itself to more expansion; I felt the same way about “In the Garden.” This isn’t to say that these felt unfinished. Nor does this mean that these stories were either inferior or superior to the others, but I did enjoy their subject matter more than most of the rest. Plus, there were a couple of stories that I didn’t really enjoy all that much.
This, of course, causes me a dilemma. On the one hand, as usual, Krauss and her writing totally blow me away. On the other hand, I can’t say that this collection was flawless, and I have to admit that although I enjoyed most of these stories, didn’t like all of them. I do really prefer her longer format novels, but she certainly knows how to write short stories as well. So, how do I rate this collection? I’m thinking, to be absolutely honest, I can warmly recommend this book to readers interested in something a little bit different, and who aren’t afraid of being challenged. That means I think this deserves 4.75 stars out if 5, but because I don’t have a 3/4 star, I’ll round up to five!
Harper-Harper Collins released “To be a Man: Stories” by Nicole Krauss on November 3, 2020 (today!). This book is available (via the following affiliate links) from Amazon, The Book Depository (worldwide free shipping), Walmart (Kobo) US (eBooks and audiobooks), the website eBooks.com, iTunes (iBook or audiobook), new or used from Alibris, used from Better World Books (promoting libraries and world literary), as well as from as well as from Bookshop.org (to support independent bookshops, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic) or an IndieBound store near you. I would like to thank the publishers for sending me an ARC of this novel via Edelweiss.
I read, but never reviewed, Krauss’ debut novel “Man Walks into a Room,” but I did review her other novels here: