Society has created injunctions around its idea of masculinity: one is told to "take it like a man," "man up," or, most simply, "be a man." But in a culture that considers male issues to be as simple as a fist to the jaw, Kevin Canty's "Where the Money Went" shows us what it is to write like a man, and as one. Writing about men's issues is, at bottom, an analysis of the concept of domain -- where one person ends and another begins. And in the small, fleeting spaces that allow for overlap, there is fertile ground for Canty's talent.
Men lead precarious public lives: domination is tacitly expected, but is outwardly shunned. Among tenuous human connections, the ideal man shifts without severing. But how does one tread an invisible line? Canty analyzes domain through several male protagonists, and his concept finds its expression in real estate, a trade that figures heavily in the collection.
His symbolic representation of domain is the home -- the place where a man is insulated from a rough and oppressive world, but which keeps him segregated, alone inside himself. Canty's downtrodden heroes face this dilemma above all else.
Having put his son to bed, the exhausted narrator of "No Place in This World for You" pads softly through his living room, but spots his domineering wife on the patio: "Get me out of here, I think. Take me home." Out of where? And to what home but his own? The violent demands of others have shorn his boundaries. The only thing he can do is shrink inside himself, a self-proclaimed failure of manhood.
Andrew, the protagonist of "Sleeping Beauty," embodies Canty's paradigm most clearly. He throws a housewarming party for himself, inviting his longtime friends, two couples who knew each other -- and Andrew -- prior to their marriages.
Painfully sensitive to the everything-in-its-place perfection of his new home, he feels alone the entire time. As he realizes his friends' marriages are not what they seem, his emotions pendulate between a nervous embarrassment and a self-possessed sense of pride that, after all, he is freer than they. Home is where the hurt is, and his singleness acts as a buffer, sheltering him from the lie that is marriage: "Outside the window is a winter's night, a cold world that goes on and on, and here they are inside, a fire, a little Cubanismo in the background.[. . .] Maybe it's just machinery to produce exactly this quiet, this security."
The quiet and the security, though, are two sides of the same lonely coin: in Canty's world, quietude comes only through insulation.
At the close of the final story, the protagonist lies entwined with his lover, illicit in their motel-room bed. Canty allows them -- and us -- a rare moment of symbiosis: "'Rest, he thought, and she closed her eyes.'" They are fused into a human Venn diagram, in possession, finally, of a shared boundary -- but only for the nonce.
This collection is, in the end, a wary celebration of mutual intrusion, and its attendant sacrifices and joys.
Craig Malesra (firstname.lastname@example.org) teaches English at Johnson & Wales University. He lives in Hope.