Nate Tower’s Nagging Wives and Foolish Husbands allegorizes the absurdities of love with elements that are surreal and other times downright disturbing. Human frailties and the desires that anchor our lives have strange manifestations, as in a blade of grass or a Victoria secret mannequin. I just finished this collection this morning and I’m still wrapping my head around the social satire and the biting commentary Tower makes about marital life.
“None of their wives are in love with plants,” an embarrassed husband laments, which then leads him to think, “The blade of grass must die, and he will be there in her time of need.”
Some of the stories permeate in the atmosphere of Tales from the Crypt, particularly one called “Abortion Party” which is both a satirical look at the plethora of rituals surrounding, well, almost everything, and in another, the hypocrisies of social norms in the face of a live abortion. It had me wincing inside, but unable to look away, a hybrid of Poe’s Red Masque and a Kafkaesque inquisition. The stories frame relationships in different contexts that reexamine daily life from large scrotums to garbage disposals and the worlds underneath them. There’s also several animal guests that upend the suburban routine, the twisted baggage of relationships finding feral (or squid-like) channeling.
Addiction is a theme that chains together a story about smoking, a woman who can’t let go of her dead husband (literally and physically), and a man who makes clones of the wife who left him, only to find them as vacuous as plastic dolls. Fantasy and reality are often blurred, and the characters themselves are often oblivious to their foibles, or at least indifferent to them. Tower reminds us in this provocative collection that all love is foolish, that we all nag about it, but none of us can last a day without it.