Coming Close is what the author calls "alternative autobiographies"- four stories, each dealing freely with different, though sometimes overlapping, material through which we understand the complexity of a man's life.
In the previously unpublished novella "Watching Father Die," a son sees his father die- both as physical man and psychological symbol. At the same time, the son watches himself die, and cool rage balances warm compassion.
"Drinking Smoke", and "Moving in Place," have both been published in prestigious literary magazines- New American Review and The Hudson Review. Like the novella, each is concerned with an obsession. "Moving in Place" received a Fels Award of the Coordinating Council of Literary Magazines as one of the five best stories of the year. Finally, "Choosing a Name" focuses on how a man who is nameless, though precisely identified in the first three stories, comes close to being B.H. Friedman. Altogether, the four stories reinforce one another to become a coherent, multi-faceted self-portrait.
At public school I have many friends- mostly poor Jewish, Irish, and Italian kids whom I play with after school and invite to our apartment on rainy weekday afternoons and sometimes on Saturdays for lunch before going to a movie. They are tougher than the children I knew when I went to private kindergarten. They play harder; hit harder; and talk faster, with heavier New York accents. They are, I suppose, the kind of kids Father wanted me to meet when, long ago, Mother argued that I should continue at private school. Behind the closed bedroom door the argument goes on for years.
"I don't like the boys he associates with. All our friends send their children to private school."
"IF I'VE TOLD YOU ONCE I'VE TOLD YOU A THOUSAND TIMES, I DON'T WANT HIM TO GET SPOILED. I DON'T WANT HIM TO GROW UP TO BE A SISSY."
Mother names several of their friends' sons who aren't sissies. Father names several who are. "BESIDES, THERE'S A DEPRESSION ON."
"You know Pop would gladly pay the tuition. I'd gladly pay it- I'd sell some jewelry.
"STOP RUBBING YOUR FATHER'S MONEY AND YOUR GODDAMN JEWELRY IN MY FACE. IF THERE'S ANY TUITION TO PAY, I'LL PAY IT."
I'm doing well at school. The work is easy and I get good marks. At ten, having skipped twice, I'm in the sixth grade. Mother tries a new tack:
"The school isn't challenging enough. He'd have more competition at one of the good private schools."
Father doesn't answer right away. Competition is something he believes in, though he thinks of it usually in physical rather than intellectual terms.
"HE'S DOING FINE." It's too easy. You say you don't want him to be spoiled, but he's being spoiled.
"LET ME THINK ABOUT IT. BY HIGH SCHOOL WE'LL CONSIDER A CHANGFE. MAYBE ONE OF THOSE FANCY SCHOOLS'LL HELP HIM GET INTO THE RIGHT COLLEGE."
"A lot of the good schools begin at the seventh grade."
During the past six years Father's other arguments have been destroyed. Under Roosevelt, the economy is recovering. Shoes are selling. Father is talking about expanding, maybe getting into the retail business, maybe even into manufacturing. With dreams like these, he begins to join Mother in her criticism of my friends. They just aren't the kind of kids who'll be bankers, lawyers, and top executives, the kind of CONTACTS I'll need in business, bigger business.
Unwittingly, my sixth grade teacher becomes Mother's ally. Through the fall term he has been using flash cards on which are printed larger and larger numbers for the class to add and subtract. He flashes one at me: