Tuesday, September 27, 2011

The Tiny Wife by Andrew Kaufman

Posted by Simcha 7:12 PM, under | 8 comments

A thief holds up a bank but instead of demanding money he insists that each of the customers hand over to him the item in their possession which is the most precious to them. One man gives the thief a watch that was a gift from his mother, another hands over his parents' wedding picture. A woman gives the thief a picture of her children and another of the customers gives him the pay stub from his recent promotion. After collecting an object from each person in the room the thief heads to the door, but before leaving he announces that he now has in his possession a piece of each person's soul, which will result in some strange consequences, and that if they don't learn how to grow the pieces of soul back, they will die.

In the days following the bank robbery each of the victims begin to feel the effects prophesied by the thief. One woman's lion tattoo comes to life and begins stalking her, forcing the woman to be constantly on the run. Another woman turns into candy and gets eaten by her hungry husband. And one woman suddenly notices that she has begun shrinking. It's the husband of the shrinking woman who narrates this story, describing the experience of watching his wife, and the mother of his two- year old son, slowly fade away, as well as recounting the the events that befall each of the other bank robbery victims.

I had really been looking forward to reading this novella, which sounded delightfully bizarre, but now that I've read it (twice) I'm not really sure what I think about it.

Other reviews of The Tiny Wife describe it as a modern fairy tale or fable, and I could see where comparisons would be made, but it didn't provide me with any of the satisfaction of a such a tale. Fairy tales, I understand (usually). Witches and step-mothers are evil, princes are romantic and heroic and unfamiliar old women are to be assisted and guided by. But what about thieves? I just didn't know what to make of the thief in this story. He steals and then offers some vaguely wise-sounding, but unhelpful, advice and then crops up a couple more times for no apparent reason before the story is resolved. The thief's role in this story was so ambiguous that I found him more distracting than anything else. I kept waiting for his purpose to be revealed, though it never really is, which really bothered me.

The first time I read The Tiny Wife I didn't get it at all. I had been waiting for events to come full-circle, making sense of the strange occurrences, but this doesn't really happen. After a second reading of the novella I came to understand that the anecdotes are meant to explore how different people respond to the challenges in their lives, their relationships and their fears. Some people manage to conquer them while others, such as the woman who gets eaten by her husband and children, are destroyed by them. But even after a second reading not all of the stories in this novella made sense to me, and in many cases I could see no connection between the object that had been given to the thief and the consequences. Perhaps a third reading would help, but I just don't have the time.

Anyways, try the book. It's short and easy to read and if you have an appreciation for the unusual and bizarre then you'll probably like it. Particularly recommended for fans of Aimee Bender.

8 comments:

:/ This sounds awfully allegorical. I love fairy tales but I absolutely cannot stand allegories. Shame, because the premise sounds very cool, like those stories where the magician comes to a small town and makes craaaazy mischief. (Exactly this book, basically. http://www.amazon.com/Wish-Giver-Three-Tales-Coven/dp/0064401685/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1317166243&sr=8-1)

Jenny: I don't know why but I've never heard of this book before but now I definitely have to read it.

I story that one has to read two times to get? And I hate hidden meanings :(

It definitely sound unique and seems like the reader should reach some profound truths upon reading it; however, is it trying too hard to be different? And plus the necessity of reading it twice to figure it out... I don't know.

Hm... I'm curious, but having to read it twice to understand it puts me off. I'm not sure I'd read this, but the part about it being different. Oh, I'm on the fence with this one...

First off, I think the premise behind this book is fantastic. The wife gives her calculator to the thief and starts shrinking. It's a great metaphor for how she and her husband have been making each other less and less of a priority. She ultimately discovers the mathematical pattern of her shrinking, but I never sense any stakes. She could shrink out of existence completely, and they're so nonchalant about it! As for the side stories, the lion tattoo lady and the detective whose family history nearly crushes him are well thought-out and make some points. The candy lady, is clever but underdeveloped. And most of the others just don't make much sense. But one of my biggest gripes is that the main characters don't seem to have learned their lesson. In short, it's a clever premise that needs more in execution.

Pete: I agree about the premise of the book and I enjoyed each of the stories but I kind of felt that they were all under-developed, even the main one. While the husband and wife each think with regret about the deterioration of their marriage I didn't actually see any of it for myself which made the premises of the story weaker, to me. Though it was really the ambiguous role of the thief that bothered me most. Kaufman commented that I should think of him as a trickster, like Willy Wonka, but that I don't think that really fits.

I understand the Willy Wonka comparison in that Wonka purposely plays into the vices of the children like this trickster does. Problem with Tink Wife's thief is that the reader doesn't know the vices of the minor characters. Lion-tattoo-lady lacks courage, I get that. Detective is bogged down by family history--figuratively and literally--get that. The main couple, I see their issue. But what was candy lady's vice? Or snowman husband? Or the family whose baby excreted money. Don't get those. And that undermines the message if the reader can't tell what the metaphors are for.

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