The Reverse Textual Rorschach™: Delahoyde And Greenman

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Steve Delahoyde has not read any of the stories in Ben Greenman's new book What He's Poised To Do, which was published by Harper Perennial this month. Don't begrudge him this. He is a very busy man, what with all the work and the personal life and the traveling. Especially the traveling: as the publication date for Greenman's book approached, Delahoyde lit out for Norway. But before he left, he made it clear he was intrigued the stories, in part because they are about letters and letter-writing, and he likes letters. It occurred to both Delahoyde and Greenman that maybe the best way for him to read them, given his busy schedule, was in fragments, by letter, in Norway.

The two men hatched a plan. Greenman would send Delahoyde fragments of his stories, letters extracted from narratives, and Delahoyde, on the strength of those fragments, would intuit the story around it. He would guess via induction, and send back his best guesses. Could Delahoyde reconstruct Greenman's stories from the thinnest of clues while in Norway? Let the Reverse Textual Rorschach (or RTR™) begin.

1a. BEN TO STEVE: A LETTER FROM A STORY

[This letter is from "The Govindan Ananthanarayanan Academy for Moral and Ethical Practice and the Treatment of Sadness Resulting from the Misapplication of the Above," the ninth story in Ben Greenman's new book What He's Poised To Do.]

My Dearest Govindan,

Your question is a hard one, which is why I am making no attempt to answer it.

My thoughts on the matter are the same as usual--I feel like fitting you for a priest's collar and then pulling it tight around your neck until you are dead. It would be a merciful act, my friend, as you have rarely shown even the slightest inclination toward existing in the moment or on this good green earth, where blood courses through bodies until it finds expression in unmentionable articulations. Your head is in the clouds, as they say, and clouds are in your head. Down here on the ground, we live not by ideas but by impulses and consequences. For my part, I recently put a bun in the oven of a lovely little Belgian nurse. She is carrying high and believes that it will be a boy. Can I trouble you for a few Karmic Boomerangs? They are no longer available at toy shops or Hindu bookstores here in London, but I think the little nipper would enjoy them.

Love to Prabhavati,
Jim

1b. STEVE TO BEN: A RESPONSE TO THIS LETTER

Dear Ben,

I am on the train, somewhere near Lillehammer.

My thinking is that this story follows some kind of Irvine Welsh-esque enjoyable-but-despicable character. There's a casualness to the rotten and tough things he's saying, which makes him both intimidating and strict, yet maybe also a bit flighty himself (that Belgian nurse bit worries me, like he's soon to be out of the picture). The recipient of the letter, this Govindan, doesn't enjoy carrying on the conversation, but for some reason can't quit talking to his ruthless, fertile cohort. The whole thing ends badly, I'm sure. A bloodbath even.

Sincerely,
Steve

1c. BEN TO STEVE: A RESPONSE TO THE RESPONSE

Dear Steve,

Well, you're frighteningly close. The story this appears in does not focus exclusively on James Rouse, the author of this letter, but you have pinned him like a slow butterfly. He is a rake and talks tough until he is corralled by a woman. As you say, the nurse may not be with him long. You are wrong on one point, and that is the bloodbath. As much as I would like to report that there is a huge gun battle, it ends more softly, with Rouse going to work for his old friend, Govindan. Nice work, though. I give you an 7.1 out of ten on this letter.

Sincerely,
Ben

2a. BEN TO STEVE: A LETTER FROM A STORY

[This letter is from "Hope," the second story in Ben Greenman's new book What He's Poised To Do.]

My dearest Yamila,

I make it a practice to eat once each week at the diner that Anna's father owns. I see her there sometimes and though she is with another man now, though she is carrying his child, she is still close to me in ways I cannot explain to my satisfaction. When I went there last week she asked me why I seemed happy and I told her, as best as I am able; the words fill my heart but cannot always make the journey to my mouth. "You have hope," she said, and I agreed, saying "yes" and then saying nothing. I have hope, but I am unsure whether I am to act on it or not. If I act, there is the possibility of gain, but a greater possibility of loss. The sweetness of hope will last only until I take action, at which point it will vanish. I force my mind to realize this. Is hope a spiritual state? I carry out this petition in hope's name. And so I remain in the grass with Eileen, sitting there, touching her hand. I remain with you in the café in Havana, watching your hand round off a sentence in the air. I remain with my sister, reunited for the first time. I remain with my poor dear mother, at her bedside. That is a continual paradise. And yet, I am still rooted to the earth. I am still a poor man. I am still the son of two parents who are in the ground. I am still at the cigar factory, still a slave of James Hooper, whom I turn away from each time I pass him by. Yamila, my darling, my love, I will write you tomorrow, and the day after that, and every day on into eternity.

Yours,
Tomas

2b. STEVE TO BEN: A RESPONSE TO THIS LETTER

Dear Ben,

Even though there's mention of Havana and cigars, of which they have neither here in Norway, there are a surprising number of farms here that look like they've been there for generations (mostly on the sides of cliffs, which doesn't make any sense, unless maybe they've been there for so long because they can't figure out how to get down). So I'd guess that there's going to be a shift here, that even though this lovelorn fella has this weekly tradition, he's going to break it, either from his own doing or forces outside his control, and go on some kind of journey. If he was Norwegian, it would mean a hike to the top of some stupidly high cliff somewhere. But given his location, I'd say maybe it's more like a jungle. And if movies have taught me anything about plot, it's only then does Anna realize how much she loves him. He comes back from his trip and bang, romance city.

Sincerely,
Steve

2c. BEN TO STEVE: A RESPONSE TO THE RESPONSE

Dear Steve,

This letter, and in fact this entire story, is a philosophical inquiry into love, which is a fancy way of saying that it isolates a man doing something insane and then finds him repeating the behavior until it becomes sane. He loves a woman who he does not see, who he cannot see, and to prove his love he writes her letter upon letter. Does that prove love? To answer that, tell me how you are feeling about me now. Pretty good, no? You are in error, though, about one point. There is no shift. This man remains steadfast. Here, I will give you a score of 6.2.

Sincerely,

Ben

3a. BEN TO STEVE: A LETTER FROM A STORY

[This letter is from "Matterhorn," the fifth story in Ben Greenman's new book What He's Poised To Do.]

Dear Katrinka,

I never went down the mountain without you, no matter what you say. I never strapped on your skis. I never put snow in one hand and your lovely face in the other. I never I never I never. Now what are you going to say to that?

Love,
Einar

3b. STEVE TO BEN: A RESPONSE TO THIS LETTER

Dear Ben,

Now you're speaking my language. Or rather, whatever the language is that people here in Norway speak (haven't quite figured it yet, but my guess is that it's Swedish with an accent). Snow, mountains. All that's missing is sheep, tractors and fjords. My guess is that this is about someone who lives in an area such as the one I'm in now (at the gorgeous Stalheim Hotel atop a big hill) and this guy is trying to win back his lady. But while he claims he's been nothing but honest and good, I'd wager that he either returns to his old ways or is genuinely pure, but is forced into finally exploring his darker side.

Sincerely,
Steve

3c. BEN TO STEVE: A RESPONSE TO THE RESPONSE

Dear Steve,

Sucker! That wasn't even in my book! I switched your coffee for decaf! You think I'd write a story called "Matterhorn"? How bad would that be?

Sincerely,
Ben

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Dear Ben,

It couldn't be worse than the others.

Sincerely,
Steve

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Dear Steve,

I thought you didn't read the book.

Sincerely,
Ben

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Dear Ben,

You thought that, I know. I wish I hadn't read it. That's two hours of my life I'll never get back.

Sincerely,
Steve

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Dear Steve,

What the hell? And now that I look, your letters don't have Norwegian postmarks. Are you even traveling?

Sincerely,
Ben

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Dear Steve,

Steve?

Sincerely,
Ben

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Dear Steve,

Steve?

Sincerely,
Ben