Executive Times






2006 Book Reviews


The Suitors by Ben Ehrenreich




(Mildly Recommended)




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Ben Ehrenreich’s debut novel, The Suitors, updates the tale of Ulysses, and presents it as a modern romance. Having read and reviewed Margaret Atwood’s The Penelopiad just two months ago, I find myself having to rate this debut versus the work of a virtuoso. While Atwood presented the story from Penelope’s perspective, Ehrenreich tackles the broader issues of love and loss. His use of language becomes torturous at times, as he displays his skills and talents, not always in ways that makes The Suitors a better work. Readers who are willing to give debut novels a chance, and who enjoy literary fiction, are likely to find much to enjoy here. Here’s an excerpt, from the beginning of Chapter 3, “In the Palace or The Gory Depths or Jumping Forward, Leaning Back, pp. 21-24:


Who are they?” Penny asks, sitting cross-legged on the bedspread, shaking the bottle’s last drop into her glass. Her mate does not respond. He lies on his back and does not move, but his breath is uneven still, and not yet slow, so Penny knows he’s not asleep. She pulls his eye­mask from his eyes, lets the elastic snap back in his face. Payne sits up fast, tears off the mask, grabs Penny’s wrist, then lets her go. He does not even bother to curse her.

“What?” he demands.

“You weren’t sleeping,” Penny says, swirling the ice in her drink.

Payne just stares.

Penny takes a sip. “Don’t ignore me,” she says.

Payne pulls the mask back on and lies down again, on his side this time and with his face to the wall.

“I asked you who they are,” says Penny

“Who who are?” answers Payne.

“You know, them. The only ones out there. I’ve seen them in the hills, hiding behind rocks, flitting about like scared little birds. They run away at the slightest sound. I see them out the window, watching you.”


“I want to know who they are, how they live.”

“And you think I know?”

“You’re out there all day”


“That’s what you call it, I know.” Penny yawns and emp­ties her drink. Her eyes catch on the gnarled wood of the headboard beside her, and the corners of her mouth drop in annoyance. She slips four fingers through the unbuttoned fly of Payne’s flannel pajamas. “Sweetheart,” she coos, con­juring perhaps a pint more sugar into her voice than the moment requires, “Honey bear, do me a favor, will you? Run downstairs and open me a bottle.”

Payne slaps her hand away. “You’re drunk enough,” he says. “No. Not yet I’m not. Not nearly” Spurned, Penny’s hand retreats to the bedside table and again lifts her glass to her lips. She sucks on what little ice remains at the bottom. She gnaws a cuticle. “Don’t you care who they are? Aren’t you even curious?”

Payne rolls over and slides his mask up on his brow, which pushes his hair into a sudden pompadour. Penny laughs. He pries the glass from her fingers and sets it atop a coaster on the bedside table. “No, not curious,” he says. “They’re little animals. Rodents. They fuck behind rocks and sleep all day They hide in the hills and scatter when they see me. Mice are more useful. Cleaner too. What’s to know?”

Penny hugs herself and twists her lips into a smile. “You’re a pig, my love,” she whispers. “Your heart is a pine nut and your mind is a tomb. Now be a dear and go down­stairs for me.”

But Payne does not go. Instead he pulls his knees to his chest and yanks the covers up over his head. Penny stands on the mattress and kicks him where she thinks his ass might be. Not hard, but hard enough to make her point. Still, he doesn’t stir. Something in her knees begins to give, but she recovers and steps, wobble-legged, to the floor. With shaking hands she strikes a match and lights a ciga­rette. She heads for the stairs but pauses in the doorway “One day I’ll leave you, Payne,” says Penny blowing smoke into the bedroom. “I’ll join them out there. You’ll see me fucking in the fields, sleeping my days away, skipping through the hills like a deer. And when you come calling, and you will come calling, I’ll just float away”

And with that, Penny closes the door before Payne’s silence can seep out into the hallway, invade her lungs, and soak the aching caverns of her heart.



I’m looking ahead to what Ehrenreich will write next. In the meantime, there’s much to enjoy in The Suitors.


Steve Hopkins, July 26, 2006



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The recommendation rating for this book appeared

 in the August 2006 issue of Executive Times


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