“Be­fore It Re­verses”

The Iowa Review - - RACHEL Z. ARNDT - Rachel z. arndt

A re­view of In­ti­ma­tions by Alexan­dra Klee­man

The men are ev­ery­where. “Strange fur­nish­ings, they filled the space with­out fill­ing the si­lence,” an un­canny repli­ca­tion of the seem­ingly cease­less stream of vir­tual men in dat­ing apps—ex­cept this isn’t a dat­ing app but the nar­ra­tor’s house, an IRL space in which she must make a de­ci­sion fa­mil­iar to any­one who’s used a dat­ing app: Which man to choose? This story, “Fairy Tale,” the first in Alexan­dra Klee­man’s col­lec­tion In­ti­ma­tions, opens with the nar­ra­tor at the din­ner ta­ble with her par­ents and just one man—a man she doesn’t rec­og­nize (she won’t rec­og­nize those other men ei­ther). In that first scene, as ev­ery­one looks at the nar­ra­tor, her fa­ther tries to steer her back into what she was say­ing: “You were an­nounc­ing your en­gage­ment,” he tells her, and she responds, “To who?” He replies, “To us,” and she won­ders, “All of you?” It’s a thrilling bit of lin­guis­tic play, the per­fect launch into a book that deals in the un­cer­tainty that comes from the mere fact of be­ing near other peo­ple, held in the same phys­i­cal space. The nar­ra­tor then asks the man, “I am an­nounc­ing my en­gage­ment to you?” and he says yes. The nar­ra­tor, who re­mains un­named, is still un­sure though: “It seemed im­pos­si­ble to phrase the ques­tion in a way that would yield a per­fectly un­am­bigu­ous an­swer.” This kind of am­bi­gu­ity, this in­abil­ity to ac­tu­ally do any­thing to make a given sit­u­a­tion co­here, drives many of the sto­ries, both the more sur­real ones and those that are more re­al­is­tic. Klee­man’s women feel the need to act, but they are also am­biva­lent about act­ing, un­sure that they’ll im­prove what’s hap­pen­ing or have any ef­fect at all. The lat­ter is more of the case for the “Fairy Tale” nar­ra­tor, who, when she meets the first man to show up (that is, the first non-fi­ancé ro­man­tic in­ter­est to ap­pear), won­ders, “If I had been de­signed to func­tion within this sit­u­a­tion or, in­stead, to some­how undo it.” What can be done and un­done—whether an ac­tion can ac­tu­ally change any­thing—the­mat­i­cally links the col­lec­tion’s pro­tag­o­nists (who might all be the same woman, or who might not be, and who are some­times un­named and who are some­times named Karen). In “Fairy Tale,” the nar­ra­tor con­sid­ers the pos­si­bil­ity of change—and its di­rec­tion—be­fore the men ap­pear, when it’s just her par­ents and her fi­ancé, about the goose on the ta­ble: “We’d

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