The Green Suit

November 11th, 2011

In October of 2011, the University of Wisconsin Press brought out a new edition of THE GREEN SUIT. The book, which was first published in

The Green Suit

The Green Suit

2000, is a collection of twelve stories about a Kentucky family called the Sackriders. (The new edition includes a new story.) In October of 2000, a reviewer for The New Yorker described the book this way:

These interconnnected stories chart the course of Peter Sackrider, a moderately handsome, fairly talented, somewhat wealthy Kentuckian who moves North to become a writer. He makes a career of sorts publishing in quarterlies and writing for Sunday newspaper supplements; we watch him evolve from a passive teen-ager during the Vietnam years to a restless middle-aged man who leaves his wife and child in search of something he can’t quite put his finger on–a home for the imagination, perhaps. Allen writes about Peter’s apparently ordinary life with such pleasing, perceptive assurance that it becomes revelatory.

In the concluding paragraph of his Chicago Tribune review (Oct. 1, 2000) of THE GREEN SUIT, David L. Ulin says that the book is

a portrait of Peter as a work in progress, for whom even memory is often just another form of self-deceit. On the one hand, this is challenging, for it leaves THE GREEN SUIT with no clear sense of resolution, no redemption, as it were. At the same time, that’s the strength of Allen’s vision, his refusal to compromise, to undermine his character’s essential incompletion by bending him to fit a nice, neat package in the end. Peter, it is true, may be unfinished, racked by loss and guilt and the sense that, as a middle-aged father, he is no closer to his potential than he ever was. But in truth the same might be said of all of us, which is why THE GREEN SUIT speaks so closely to our lives.

In his Los Angeles Times review of THE GREEN SUIT, Mark Rozzo wrote,

There’s a gentle brio to Allen’s writing that captures the bemusement of his self-deprecating hero’s encounter with the Me Decade and its aftermath. As a fledgling journalist, Peter gives this blunt assessment of his work: ‘The sentences I’d written sat there like fat geese waiting to be shot.’ Unlike his alter ego, Allen, in this low-key wonder of a book, creates sentences that take flight.

In a review in the New York Times Book Review, Alice Elliott Dark said,

Readers will pick their own favorites among these stories, although the less obviously arresting may gain in appeal over time. There are layers of subtle meaning and plotting here; the work not only stands up to rereading but rewards the effort.

EXCERPT (from “End of His Tether,” the new and final story)

Sackrider poured himself a glass of red wine, took a sip, and coughed. He coughed until he had no energy to expel whatever it was that was rooted in his chest. He went back to the couch and covered himself with blankets up to the chin. He was going to die soon, perhaps before the night was out. He had better get to work on writing those letters of apology now.


It was three in the morning and he was awake, breathing. A cough syrup he’d found under the bathroom sink hadn’t relieved his distress. He took off his pajamas–damp from the sweating he’d done under the covers–and looked at himself in the bathroom mirror. His balls hung low, like an old man’s. He thought of the balls (two? three?) that hung outside pawnshops. If parts of the human body could be pawned, what part of himself would he pawn? What part of him would fetch a little mad money? He didn’t pursue this thought. He put on his robe and ski socks and went downstairs.

He’d decided that the first person he’d write would be a graduate school girlfriend. It was probably true that the hurt he’d caused Nora Sue (a.k.a. Renata) was minor compared to, say, the hurt he’d caused Jo or his first wife or his child from his first marriage or perhaps even Molly, but maybe writing to Nora Sue would give him the courage to write those he had more grievously offended.

“Dear Nora Sue,” he typed. “I wanted to say now, before I came down with dementia or jumped into the Milwaukee River or died from whatever virus has hold of me at the moment, I wanted to say, thirty years after we lay naked on that mattress in the little apartment above the porn shop in Ann Arbor, a time that included the nights after the night I slept, in a kind of experimental way, with Martin, the postdoc who was studying bioluminescence in mushrooms, I wanted to say that I’m sorry. I wanted to say that I apologize for my manifold weaknesses, to use a phrase that I recall you using to describe me, and the failures of courage that issued as a result.”

He tired before he finished the letter. He put it in a drafts file and went back upstairs. He took off his robe and lay on the bed in only his ski socks and wondered if he should write Martin, too.

The Typewriter Satyr

May 25th, 2010

THE TYPEWRITER SATYR by Dwight Allen (University of Wisconsin Press, 2009) is about what happens when a fifty-two-year-old typewriter repairman named Oliver Poole meets a thirty-one-year-old community-radio deejay named Annelise Scharfenberg. The story is set in a small-townish, make-believe Wisconsin city called Midvale (”hilariously mirroring,” as one blogger has noted, “Madison’s blend of corporate pragmatism and pothead eccentricity”). Among the characters who move in and out of the lives of the two lovers are a homeless memoirist named Wade and a Buddhist monk who grew up in rural Wisconsin leading tours of the family cave.

The novelist Michelle Huneven, the author of ROUND ROCK, JAMESLAND, and BLAME, says of THE TYPEWRITER SATYR that

This novel of damaged souls falling in and out of love speaks to the powerful tides of longing and loneliness surging through all of us.

The Typewriter Satyr

The Typewriter Satyr

In a review in the Chicago Sun Times (March 22, 2009), Mary Houlihan wrote:

Allen has a wonderful way of capturing the essence of each character, even the lesser ones. . . . But it is Annelise who is the book’s most complex character. She was sexually abused as a child, so she teeters away from long-lasting commitments. She’s a sometime student of Buddhism who never lets up in a search for her better self. It’s a forthright journey that she doesn’t tiptoe around. ‘Annelise had to admit that most days she was addicted to the hope that weed and sex and doughnuts would make her feel better,’ Allen writes. ‘What she lacked was faith that she might actually be a decent person, despite her mistakes and cravings and history.’

In a review in the St. Paul (Minn.) Pioneer Press (Dec. 4, 2009), Mary Ann Grossmann wrote:

This bittersweet, compassionate love story will capture you from the first paragraph. . . THE TYPEWRITER SATYR deserves national attention.

THE TYPEWRITER SATYR was a finalist for the Midwest Book Award in fiction and was the Honorable Mention (runner-up) in the Council for Wisconsin Writers Anne Powers Fiction Award. (Valerie Laken’s DREAM HOUSE was the winner of the CWW award.)


The monk said, “If you feel your mind becoming distracted, gently bring it back to your breathing. Follow the stream of air as it enters your nostrils and flows into your body. When it leaves, feel it warm the tips of your nostrils.”

Annelise–seated on a pillow on the floor, which was uncomfortable but probably not much less uncomfortable than the slat-bottomed wood chair where Oliver, whose hip and leg were inflamed with sciatica, sat–tilted her face up an inch and inhaled. The class was held in a low-ceilinged second-story room above a downtown New Age book-and-notions shop. Two of the windows were open–though not widely enough; Annelise was sweating–and sounds from the street floated in, along with the Midvale air, which on this night in late August contained bus fumes, marijuana, stir fry, cooling concrete, beer, horse droppings, and a tincture of slaughterhouse. (Annelise’s nose was such that if you kissed her after, say, sealing an envelope, as Rolf did the other day, she would smell the envelope glue as well as what you had for lunch and anybody else you had thought about kissing within the past forty-eight hours.) The heavy air made Annelise feel irritable. How nice it would be if a storm blew in. She wished fall would hurry up and come, wished for cool air from afar to prickle her scalp and wipe her head clean, so that she might begin to make decisions. Should she stay with Rolf, whom she didn’t really love, though maybe he was the best she’d find before she turned into a crone–Rolf, who for all she knew was seeing someone at his office? Or should she move out and wait for Oliver, shallow-pocketed Oliver who had four children hanging all over him, who was already receiving mailings from the AARP–Oliver, with whom she had been in love for more than a month, with whom she had been betraying Rolf for more than a month, with whom she’d read aloud “How the Camel Got His Hump” one night last week after fucking him so hard she thought she’d hurt him?

She breathed. She remembered a phrase from “How the Camel Got His Hump”–”In the beginning of the years, when the world was so new and all”–and then she saw herself standing under a blue fall sky, bluer than any wish could make it, shivering a little, right at the edge of the world, not a single other human being within sight. Would she ever be able not to be afraid while standing alone?

–from Chapter 4 of THE TYPEWRITER SATYR By Dwight Allen



August 25th, 2009


A review in The New Yorker (May 19, 2003) described JUDGE by Dwight Allen (Algonquin, 2003) this way: “Slight, dishevelled, almost totally without guile, eighty-two-year-old Judge William Dupree, of Louisville, departs this world leaving behind only the shimmer of his beneficence. His death leaves his family–his hypochondriac wife and his peripatetic sons–at a loss. Without the love that he steadily, but unobtrusively, supplied, his sons go haywire: the elder leaves his amiable wife for an aspiring ventriloquist, and the younger, a struggling writer, returns home, where he falls into the arms of his father’s law clerk. Allen’s preoccupation with ardor in all its forms brings Walker Percy to mind, and his lovely, elegiac book shows how easily even the most well-made life can unravel.”

Publishers Weekly (April 7, 2003) said of the novel, “Allen’s characters are likably flawed and drawn with a delicate, subtle hand. . . Add to this his assured prose (a character’s nightgown is ‘the color of the moon, as colored by a child bearing down hard with a silver Crayola’), and the book is a quietly moving accomplishment.”

In a Washington Post review (April 13, 2003), Martha Bayne wrote, “Allen’s quiet, genteel storytelling casts a surprising spell. An errant fabulist image haunts the pages, and though its initial appearances are a bit at odds with the precise realism of Allen’s prose, ultimately it works as a wry manifestation of how memories can linger after death to taunt those left behind.”


Crawford had always found it unsettling to see his father without glasses. He looked naked and helpless, like a baby bunny that had wandered out of its nest. Crawford remembered one day in the early sixties, when he was twelve or so, watching his unspectacled father grope his way toward the swimming pool at the country club they belonged to, watching him step warily across the concrete apron, his eyes cast down, his mouth grimly set, the good humor with which he usually saw the world having vanished from his face because what lay before him was a blur of light and noise, a hundred voices, the acrid smell of chlorine, the faintly sexual smell of boxwood bushes whose tiny leaves littered the pool, the clotted summer air. His long swim trunks were cinched higher above his waist than was necessary or stylish, his body was as white as the moon except where black hair sprouted. Crawford had watched from the shallow end–Morgan was in the deep end, doing can openers off the high dive–and had wondered for a moment if he should go take his father’s elbow and guide him down the steps into the water. And yet the sight of him looking so pitiful, like the kid who gets picked on in school, had annoyed Crawford. How could this man be the person who’d been elected in a landslide to a county judgeship, an office he would hold for another ten years, until Richard Nixon appointed him to a higher court? How could this pale person, this phantasm, be Crawford’s father, the man who helped him with his algebra, who knew all the kings and queens of England and France from the Norman Conquest forward, who arbitrated disputes between Crawford and Morgan and between everybody and Mrs. Dupree (though, generally, it should be said, in Crawford’s mother’s favor)? How, Crawford had wondered, could his father be so different from him? When Judge Dupree finally entered the pool and began to do his version of the crawl, lifting his face most of the way out of the water when he took a breath, like a disoriented swimmer searching for shore, Crawford moved out of his path and watched him go by. Morgan, who had apparently spotted his father from the diving platform, swam over and greeted him. They horsed around. Crawford heard his father say, “Where’s your brother?”

–from the second chapter of JUDGE by Dwight Allen