Glass Houses: Stories
About Glass Houses:
In his first collection of short stories, Rabasa introduces a delightfully bizarre world and sheds light on it from 19 different angles. Each story is more entertaining than the last, and the overall effect is refreshing even if Rabasa's penchant for the outlandish detail seems contrived at times. In "A Small Mystery," Eleanor Wright is convinced that her new neighbor, Walter Pribble, is a criminal. While her husband markets a new cereal using his neighbor's name (Grain, Fruit 'n Nut Pribbles), Eleanor is fascinated by Walter's nightly ritual of prancing around his kitchen naked. Then there's Sally Caslon in "Beyond the Norm," who sells the head of Mrs. Arveda Gutterman, a 19th-century serial killer, at a garage sale for $50. The local color of Rabasa's realm is especially bright in "The Garbage House," where the Halvorsons of 467 Farrell Street are forced into a Super Eight Motel while sanitation experts empty three tons of garbage that have accumulated during the couple's decade-long quarrel over who should wash the dishes. The greatest strength of this collection is its dialogue. Rabasa recreates the subtle misunderstandings of everyday banter, giving each character such a distinct voice that the dialogue could practically stand on its own. Even though it leaves questions unanswered and problems unresolved, these surreal Glass Houses are definitely worth prying into.
Excerpt from Glass Houses:
Soon the house is divided into two camps, the swimmer and the non-swimmer. Tim comes home in the evening and jumps into the pool. We have dinner and watch tv, and then, just before bedtime, he goes in again. The next morning he rises out of bed, and swims before heading out to the office. I wonder if anybody else can smell the chlorine on him.
Tim tells me that splashing around in the pool is the most refreshing thing he has ever done. It energizes him in the morning, unstresses him after work, and relaxes him just before bedtime. One day he asks me if I think he's becoming a fanatic.
"What do you think?" I say.
"I don't think I'm being fanatical," he says. "But I feel you think I am."
"I didn't say you were."
"That's because you don't talk anymore."
"You can't hear well when the water's up above your ears," I say.
"I'd hear fine, if you were in the pool with me," he says.
During the day while I work on my PC, I don't think about the pool much. It has become something that sits out there in the backyard. But when Tim is home, then the pool seems pretty much to take over. He's either getting ready to go in or he's in or he's drying out after being in. When he comes out his skin is all pink and pruny.
He wants to know why I don't ever get in the water. One time I tell him because the water is too warm. Another that the water is too cold. At first he keeps changing the adjustments on the thermostat in search of some ideal temperature. After a while he gives up asking.
"You know," he says to me one night while he dries himself after his evening swim. "There is something about water that feels very natural. The way it wraps itself around every body crevice and cavity. The way it holds you up. The way your body adapts to the temperature. It's a very comforting kind of thing. Our bodies are 97% water, we are created in water, our ancestral species lived in water. Sometime I'll spend the whole night in the pool."
When Tim says this he does not look normal. Not that he's babbling or foaming at the mouth or looking wildeyed. But I know Tim. Standing naked in front of the bedroom window, looking down at the pool, all lit up and glowing in the night, he has a quiet kind of intensity, a brightening of his eyes. Does he dream of floating in amniotic fluid all over again? Does he fancy himself an amoeba? Does he want to dissolve?
Tim buys things to play with in the water. First there was a Float-a-Bar, basically a styrofoam board with recessed circles to hold a glass, mixed nuts, an ashtray. Tim has his wine, his morning coffee, his after work beer in the Float-a-Bar. This means he need no longer stand by the edge of the pool to have a drink, but can splash about, never farther than a stroke or two from refreshment. He says whoever invented it should get the Nobel prize.
He buys a Float-a-Pillow, a kind of neck brace made of hollow red and yellow plastic that attaches to the back of his head when he floats belly up. He's easier to talk to this way, because his ears aren't under water. This device also allows him to take naps without drowning.
Then, there's Float-a-Babe, an inflatable vinyl reproduction of a blond woman in a pink bikini. The effect is quite realistic, the skin tanned to a soft cocoa hue, the hair golden, like Barbie's, the eyes are sparkly blue, the half-open red lips smile relentlessly. Tim is learning to be self sufficient.
I tell him the doll is in bad taste.
"It's just a toy," he explains. And that says it all as far as he's concerned. Like who am I to stand in the way of fun, for Christ's sake. Especially if all it involves is some inflatable vinyl thing. To prove the point he plays with the doll. He pushes it underwater so when I least expect it, Float-a-Babe comes leaping through the surface all wide-eyed and smiley like she really is having a good time. I turn my attention back to the PC and marvel at the close inter-connection between regular flossing by unmarried females and their propensity to join book clubs.
The next time I look out, Tim's legs are wrapped around Float-a-Babe's hips and his arm is around her shoulders, the two of them bobbing on the surface. "Don't worry," he calls out from the center of the pool. "We're just good friends."