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.

Leave a Reply