Wrestling with Angels: New and Collected Stories

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9781592642021: Wrestling with Angels: New and Collected Stories

Since publishing his first collection in the eighties, John J. Clayton has continued to write "powerful stories of urban life in America, of life often enough among Jews who carry their exile and their wilderness within them. The prose is powerful, an impressive mixture of sinuous sentences--which one reads as if one overhears thoughts. All of these characters are bruised. They are often enough triumphant, though, even if locked into mortal flesh, because they have an astonishing belief in the spirit." (Fredrick Busch)

We are pleased to be publishing the definitive collection of Clayton's remarkable stories. Included are two previously published collections, Bodies of the Rich and Radiance: Ten Stories, together with a selection of previously uncollected stories, and a large collection of new stories, Wrestling with Angels, plus an introduction to his work by the author.

Clayton has been published in nearly all major literary magazines and has been reprinted in The Pushcart Prize anthologies and volumes of Best American Short Stories and O Henry Prize Stories.

"synopsis" may belong to another edition of this title.

About the Author:

JOHN J. CLAYTON, born and raised in New York City and educated at Columbia College and Indiana University, has taught modern literature and fiction writing at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst since 1969.

Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:

For years we've been saying, we should take time to listen to music, but we never do. Today, we just listen. Mozart, then Schubert. Natalie says, "I'm not so sick I can't give you a massage back." And that's how it is. I massage, she massages. Her fingers are weak, so weak. This beach resort, this land of milk and honey--so fragile.

You and me, Natalie, we signed a ketubah--our marriage contract--and God knows I can get annoying, just like you, I can get grumpy, just like you, but I'm going to comfort you, I'm going to carry you to bed, to wash you, to read to you if you're tired, I'm going to say kaddish for you if things don't turn out. In this world: Mozart, Schubert. In this world, possibilities bloom out of our imaginings.

All right, all right. I'm trying to be humble.

The next afternoon, Saturday, both boys show up at the door together. This must have taken no small arranging: from Paris, from San Francisco.

Hearing laughter, Natalie calls from downstairs, "Who is it? Who's there, Max?"

"Friends of ours," I call back. I put my finger to my lips. "Boys, this will sound peculiar, but have you packed bathing suits? Of course not. All right. Tiptoe upstairs to my bureau, bottom drawer, get into swim trunks, don't ask questions, and come downstairs to the family room. Please? Just do it."

"Max?" she calls up from Aruba.

"Just a minute, just a minute, sweetheart. We're coming."

They look at each other and back at me, and I raise a lecturing finger they well remember. Off they go, and back they come in swim trunks--baggy, I grant--with towels across their shoulders. They're both big guys with small waists. Michael is chunky, takes after me, a wrestler in high school. I look at him, I see myself as a young man. Peter is, I suppose, more handsome. He looks like Natalie, blue eyes, high cheekbones. He's wiry, lean, a run ner. Big, both of them. I forget when they're gone for a couple of months that these aren't children anymore. They were our chief project, and praise God, they've turned out fine young men. Except for High Holy Days and Passover, they're not so observant, but I think that when they marry....

Peter says, "Has Mom...has something happened mentally? What's going on?"

"Not to Mom. To me, if you must know. Boys, we're going to Aruba. No, really--I've made Aruba in the family room. It's a joke--but not just a joke."

And they look at each other and follow me to the now unused, once-jumbled-with-life lower floor of the split-level. Natalie sits up and immediately sinks back onto the beach blanket in tears, and they hug and kiss her. I say, "Gently, boys...gently," and they're laughing. "Your father!" she says. "The big shot. He thinks he's Jacob. Wrestling with angels."

And I think, I'm not acting in the place of God. This is it--this is how God operates. Through us.

We sit cross-legged on the beach blanket, I get fruit drinks. Now it's Natalie who improvises. "Isn't this beach nice? You see? Not in the least crowded. And wait till you see the luxury accommodations." It tires her out. She lies down again and from the way she's moving her tongue in her cheek, I know it's time to get her Nystatin to soothe her mouth. Michael is holding her hand and admiring the tropical decor and the view. Peter is in a different script--he's banging his fist on the mattress. He thinks she doesn't know, but he's wrong, she knows, and I put my hand over his fist and hold on.

"I don't have the heart for this," he whispers.

I tell him, "You do."

"About this title" may belong to another edition of this title.

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