Best known for his savage plays, like In the Company of Men or Fat Pig, Neil LaBute has been in a bit of a slump lately. I read his play Some Girls earlier this year and found it to be contrived and foolish, seeming more to be an emulator of LaBute than the man himself. He has a way of capturing the most horrible aspects of a character, and then forcing us to confront those very aspects that reside within us.
In his collection of short stories, Seconds of Pleasure, there is a lot to like. In ‘Time-Share,’ a married couple fights after the wife has caught her husband cheating with the person in the next time-share. The conversation reminds me of the best of Roth, capturing the perfect back and forth between two people. ‘Opportunity’ sees a woman explain her past to her husband as they drive home through the fog, with wounds from childhood being relived and new discoveries about connections between that past and her present coming to bear.
Unfortunately though, the collection is mostly filler. Of the twenty stories, maybe eight or so are worthy of being here. Another aspect of LaBute’s fiction that maybe shouldn’t be surprising is the way almost all of these stories are vignettes that could easily be performed on stage. Were I still acting, ‘Time-Share’ would almost certainly be a piece I would try and perform. ‘Opportunity’ could just as easily be a monologue as it is a story. In some of the filler material, one has the distinct impression that these stories started as work for a play, and for whatever reason weren’t working. Maybe they were too limited for anything beyond the one scene, maybe they just came out in a way that the writing was not able to be presented on stage. But perhaps these failures were more endemic to the material and that is why these stories seem so unfulfilling; they don’t connect the reader to the narrative by forcing him to identify with those darker parts of himself.
While Seconds of Pleasure was a mixed bag, the two named stories make it worth tracking down. The savagery of LaBute’s drama is delightful and horrifying at the same time, something that seems rare in these days of black and white morality in art.