Struggling to balance a living with a passion, many writers wonder: what if life gets in the way? For Arlene Heyman, whose debut collection of short stories Scary Old Sex drops in March, writing was sidelined for years by her family and job. (Though she had a promising start as author Bernard Malamud’s student — and lover.) But Heyman kept working on the stories she’d begun as a twentysomething for the next thirty years. The result is a searing, provocative collection of stories that have had the rare chance to mature along with their author.
Heyman’s protagonists are professionals with professional-level doubt, people on their second and third marriages, mothers, sons, husbands, and wives. A woman making love to her second husband cannot forget her first, who died young, and her fantasies give her the control she feels she’s lost; a biologist tries to reconcile her professional and familial selves.
With the straightforward reporting and insight that comes from, but also transcends, her other training as a psychiatrist, Heyman more often ends a story by sowing doubt than by resolving it. But this doubt, she might argue, is what makes each of us unique. As occurs to one of her characters: “…a dreadful feeling came over her…of disconnectedness, as if she were herself some strange taped-together creature, the likes of which had never been seen before.”