“Wife in Reverse,” by Stephen Dixon
Read online at matchbook
This is such a simple and clever piece, so much so that it seems almost obvious. I’m not sure why it makes me tear up.
Is that emotional manipulation, when something simple and clever makes you want to cry? It doesn’t feel manipulative in the least. This story feels like a close relative of “The piercing chill I feel …,” by Taniguchi Buson. Salinger’s Buddy Glass claims to admire poetry that invites you to have an experience without dragging you into it, and I think that’s what’s happening in these two stories—their brevity leaves room for the reader.
Another thing that impresses me about this story is how clear it is. There are no paragraph breaks. Sometimes each new sentence takes us back in time, sometimes we stay in the same scene. It probably helps that for much of the piece, the events are less interesting for their sequence than for their particular emotional meanings.
matchbook has some excellent fiction, but I would like them better if they didn’t insist on having notes about the writing of the story right next to the story, in a column of equal width. This is not just a quirk, it’s part of the whole concept of the magazine. I find descriptions of the writing process to be boring in a way that’s actually embarrassing, like bad vacation photos where the people are also badly dressed. Also, I can’t help reading them. The notes on this story are much better than usual, though; it appears the author was unavailable for comment and the editor had to make something up.