Dan Libman has accomplished what most writers dream of. He won the Pushcart Prize for fiction, he's been published in the Paris Review, and lives with a wife -- Molly McNett -- who shares his passion for writing. We'll meet her later in our Summer Book Series.
Libman's latest book is the short-story collection Married but Looking. Each story features a character who is married but exploring the idea of another partner. "In some of these stories there are slight transgressions," Libman says, "and in some cases there's more than just slight transgressions, and it has to do with how these affect the partner."
The title story, "Married but Looking," features a character named Valerie who has a Facebook fling with an old flame from high school. This occurs while Valerie and her husband, Silvers, visit France. Silvers is aware of the fling and resents it. "Even though it is not consummated," Libman says, "it's taking place in her mind and he can't get in there, he can't control that."
Near the end of the story, Valerie gives up her Internet affair and presents her husband a gift -- a small mustard pot -- that was meant for the other man. On the plane home, Valerie heaps mustard on their sandwiches. Silvers recognizes this as a peace offering:
All he could taste was the coarse mustard, acidic, tangy, more mustard than he normally ate in a month; but he understood that it was important to choke down every bite, and even after signaling for a second bottle of water he couldn't get the taste from his tongue.
Silvers returns this gift by promising to learn French next time they visit Paris.
All of the affairs in this book -- real or imagined -- are unsatisfying, some comically so. Perhaps the funniest story is "In the Belly of the Cat," where a man named Mr. Christopher hires a call girl. He prepares a multi-course meal for his "date" and imagines a detailed plan about how the evening will progress.
Nothing goes according to plan. The call girl arrives, but it's not the one he requested. She announces that her time is limited, and her pimp is waiting outside to drive her to another client. A comic series of events follows, where Mr. Christopher adjusts the meal courses to fit her schedule.
Libman, an English instructor at Northern Illinois University, tells his writing students to include chaos and conflict. "It moves the story along when things go awry and there's confusion," he said. "In the Belly of the Cat" has been included in many anthologies and translated into several languages, most recently in a Russian journal.
Our Summer Book Series continues Friday, June 15, when Amy Newman discusses her new collection of poems, Dear Editor. Hear the broadcast version during Morning Edition at 6:34 and 8:34. Then return here for audio recordings of Dr. Newman reading her poems.