Rumble, Young Man, Rumble by Benjamin Cavell (Knopf), 191 pages, $33 cloth. Rating: NNN
the nine mordant stories that make up this debut collection explore the tension between bravado and insecurity in American male culture. It's easy to mock the cult of masculinity, but Cavell would rather throw critical punches than point fingers.
Which is not to say that this boxer and former editor of the Harvard Crimson is without humour. Balls Balls Balls is the title of the opening story and the name of a sporting goods store owned and operated by the members of an amateur paintball team.
Logan Bryant, the team's self-professed star, tells his customers he was a Navy SEAL and wears the T-shirt to prove it. But then he admits to the reader that he never was, although he would have been one if he'd ever bothered to learn to swim.
In Evolution, two stock traders try to walk "the path to emotional detachment" to prepare themselves for the murder they want to commit for no other reason than to see if they're capable of the act.
The Ropes, the collection's closer, is about a young man injured in the ring. After moving in with his father, Alexander Folsom tries to work and attempts to flirt with the soon-to-be-married daughter of a well-to-do family.
There isn't much thematic range here, but Cavell wants to understand his characters, not simply dismiss them as machismo-suffused dunderheads. With his characters' increasing will to power comes a heightened sense of their insecurity and mortality, a tension Cavell brings out in clean, simple prose.
Reminiscent of early Thom Jones, these stories focus on characters who seek that elusive something - a victory in the ring, bedding the girl next door, the knowledge that you can kill if you have to - that will make each of them his own man but who ultimately need someone or something else to rely on.
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