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A Disturbance in One Place

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A New York woman—married, Jewish, left-handed—carries on three simultaneous affairs. Distant, aloof, tough-talking, she is concerned more with God than religion, and blithely breaks seven of the Ten Commandments in her search for innocence and a safe place to land. She takes the Lord’s name in vain, dishonors her mother, her father, and the Sabbath. She lies. She steals, She covets. Rootless, bouncing from bed to bed, she knows she is pure of heart. If only she could find where her heart got lost. Erotic with a rare honesty, darkly humorous and profound, A Disturbance in One Place points to the small but infinitely deep cracks in our masks, drawing the reader irresistibly into the world of a woman who seems unable to decide whether she is out to prove or disprove the Talmudic wisdom: If you don’t know where you’re going, any road will take you there.

 

Praise for A Disturbance in One Place

A Barnes and Noble Discover New Authors Book

Critics Choice Award


“Not many young female novelists can deal with sex, the appetite for it, and the loss of such appetite with as much candor, lack of self-protection, and humor as Binnie Kirshenbaum.” — Norman Mailer

“Writing swift, pointed chapters…Kishenbaum offers hilarious and sage advice in the battle of the sexes. Readers anxious for an entertaining female character to emulate, if only in their fantasies, will find themselves in good company.” — People

“Mordantly witty…The writing is deft, clever, and sharp.” — New York Newsday

"Kirshenbaum refuses to corral what is funny or sad into separate camps, but allows one to flip over into the other, creating unexpectedly poignant effects....What at first seemed like a sexual travelogue deepens into a litany of longing, at once unsettling and deeply moving." —San Francisco Review of Books

"Highly recommended." —Library Journal

"Funny, quirky, and surprising." —Iowa Press Citizen

"(Kirshenbaum is) a serious, intelligent writer with a keen sense of humor and strong sense of purpose." —Tulsa World

"Kirshenbaum seems at times to be on a comic spree, but in the end this is a dark and powerful look at a troubled spirit." —Publishers Weekly

"A perfect blend of merriment and melancholy." —San Antonio Current

"Kirshenbaum has created a woman who is neither corrupted nor cynical, and we yearn, like the author, to set her free."
New York Newsday

"A Disturbance In One Place is a rogue book: erotic, dark, amusing. And, as rogues will, it breaks the reader's heart. Lyrical and prosaic, laced with sardonic wit, often hilarious, yet filled with an overwhelming sadness." —The Review of Contemporary Fiction

 

Chapter Excerpt for A Disturbance in One Place

The Way Frankie Sings

I want to run, take up running for sport, maybe run marathons. With this in mind, I buy an outfit: gym shorts, Lycra tank top. I also get a pair of Reeboks and one of those leather pouches to wear around my waist, to carry the essentials, like money and a lipstick.

Washington Square Park is where I choose to run. Not actually in, or through, the park but along its perimeter. I go there at dusk when the purple sky, ushering in the cool of the night, offers reprieve from the August heat.

He's leaning against the post of a street sign at the park's northeast corner. He's dressed in black, but not like the swarms of young punks straining for decadent in ripped T-shirts and shredded denim. His clothes are snazzy, sharp. Lightweight gabardine trousers, a double-breasted linen sports jacket, like an old-time hood, a thug, a shadow cast. A briefcase rests on the ground between his feet, and I assume it's filled with packets of crisp money, or heroin, or a pistol with a silencer -- the tool of a paid assassin. As I near him, I watch him watching me. His eyes follow me, and when I pass, I feel him checking out my behind.

On my second lap around the park, he is prepared. He's got a cigarette out, unlit, between his lips. His glance catches mine, and he gestures the striking of a match. As a rule, runners don't smoke. Two steps away from him, a pair of teenage boys are smoking reefer. He could've asked them for a light. But it happens that along with money, a lipstick, and a pack of Players, I've got a book of matches.

He looks on while I unzip my leather pouch as if it were my dress I were unzipping, as if I were doing something sexy. I fork over the matchbook, and he looks at it, both sides.

I might as well take a cigarette break too, and he strikes a match for me, cupping his hand around the flame. We stand there smoking, sizing each other up, but we don't speak. His steady gaze from beneath heavy eyelids leaves me somewhat unsure of myself, off balance. But I keep my chin raised, tilted a degree upward. I hold my eyes steady, firm like his, and I blow smoke rings because I don't want him suspecting I am a little bit afraid.

My cigarette is nearly done, and I drop it, snuff the ember with my sneaker, and wait. I wait for him to say something,and he lets me wait. Another minute of that, and I think the hell with him. I'm about to take off, resume running, when he says, "Your matches." He holds them out for me to take. "Thanks for the light. I appreciate it." His voice, his diction, the way he enunciates his syllables, punctuates his consonants is unmistakably Brooklyn, elegant. He speaks like Sinatra sings.

Running, I concluded, was not the sport for me. As something to do, I didn't care for it. The outfit is unattractive, and the experience of running around and around the park, with no destination, was all too reminiscent of a dog chasing its own tail.

Nonetheless, I return to the park at dusk. Not to run, but to prowl. I go looking for that man, that hit man, to find him if I can.

That he should be exactly where I left him the night before, at the northeast corner of the park, is farfetched. Yet I am not at all surprised to find him there, leaning against the street post, hands behind his back. "Got a match?" I ask.

He brings his hands around, not to light my cigarette, but to produce a bouquet of flowers, the way a magician brings doves from a silk scarf or thin air. The flowers are red. "I never did anything like this before," he confesses.

The sun slips below the horizon. Night falls, and we walk. It seems as if the city were deserted, as if he and I were the only two people, alone together, out on the streets. Our footsteps echo.
We ask no questions.

"I've been waiting for you," he says. "My whole life I've been waiting for you."
I hold the red flowers by the stems, and a wind rises up around us, a warm wind, a summer wind.

The foregoing is excerpted from A Disturbance in One Place by Binnie Kirshenbaum. All rights reserved. No part of this book may be used or reproduced without written permission from HarperCollins Publishers, 10 East 53rd Street, New York, NY 10022

 

Reading Group Guide for A Disturbance in One Place

INTRODUCTION

A Disturbance in One Place follows the life of a distant, aloof, tough-talking, married woman who blithely breaks seven of the Ten Commandments in her search for innocence and a safe place to land. Rootless, bouncing from bed to bed, she knows she is pure of heart. If only she could find where her heart got lost. Erotic with a rare honesty, darkly humorous, and profound, A Disturbance in One Place points to the small but infinitely deep cracks in our masks, drawing us irresistibly into the world of a woman who seems unable to decide whether she is out to prove or disprove the Talmudic wisdom: If you don't know where you're going, any road will take you there.

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS

1. We don't learn that the narrator is married until after she has sex with her Brooklyn "hit man." Were you surprised?

2. Infidelity in both History on a Personal Note and A Disturbance in One Place comes across commonplace, disconnected from marriage. Why do characters in these two books cheat? What does the act of infidelity reveal about them? Discuss how these books subvert our notions about who commits adultery. Does infidelity affect genders differently?

3. The narrator takes great pride in her masterful blowjobs. But the multimedia artist does not like that particular sexual act. Why does he withhold from her the one activity she feels she has mastered? The multimedia artist is also cheap and petty. Why would she be drawn to him more than the hit man, who will give her anything?

4. With her penchant for affairs, why did the narrator decide to marry in the first place? What role does a husband play in her life? Is there a particular desire he fulfills?

5. The narrator reveals the events of her life with great sangfroid, nearly blas_. At what points in the story do we know that she has more feeling about events than she lets on?

6. When the narrator eats the kasha varnishka, traditionally an Eastern European Jewish food, she describes it as "something that has gone bad, food that's turned on me." What is the symbolism of this experience? Discuss the old woman's dismissal of the narrator, who she does not realize is Jewish, calling her a "shiksa" and other derogatory terms. What does being Jewish mean to the narrator? Why did she not tell the woman she is Jewish?