A Primitive Heart: Stories
by David Rabe
Men Behaving Heartlessly
A review by Anna Godbersen
The primitive heart of the title refers, literally, to the not-yet-fully-formed organ of an ill-fated fetus, but all the characters in Hurlyburly playwright David Rabe's story collection are suffering from emotional malfunctions that render them less than fully human. Take Daniel, the father of the unborn child, who always did the sort of things male characters ensconced in "muscular prose" do (in a flashback, pre-pregnancy confession of infidelity, he "demanded details, received them, then broke several pieces of furniture"). But with his wife's pregnancy imperiled, he goes beyond garden-variety alienation, turning from her to the comforts of scientific fact and lucrative stock trades. And then there's Red, a down-on-his-luck Lear jet pilot ("depressed, but not the way assholes or sissies get depressed"), who spends thirty pages hell-bent on reclaiming a debt and spending it at a strip club. Red favors triples of bourbon, but in A Primitive Heart, he is not alone in this.
There is plenty of blood, shit, and piss in these lengthy, multi-chaptered tales. Some of it is even conjured with a brilliant sense of the absurd. But too often Rabe's stories, and his characters, get mired in their own flat, meandering toughness. This collection reads like a series of good lines in want of an actor, or two, who could lend them just a little bit of heart.
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