Reviewed by Kathleen Coskran (Ethiopia 1965-67)
Ben Berman is in love with language. His melodious triptychs on life lived and remembered are so seductive that I began to wonder if his name wasn’t some sort of three-part word play: Ben enclosed in (or freed from) BErmaN, or the man in his surname scrolling out mythic memory of the life of one man. I googled him to reassure myself that he was in fact a single human being and not an allegorical creation. That’s how enticing this slender volume is.
Then Again is a collection of three-paragraph narratives that could be called prose poems or flash memoir or short short essays–or all of that. The one word title of each of the 42 pieces . . . from “Breaks” and “Tears” to “Notes” and “Rests” alerts you to the richness and multiple meanings of a single word, but so seamlessly leads you into story that this reader didn’t piece together what he was doing in the first short pieces.
The joy in language is only one of the pleasures of Then Again. He seamlessly weaves disparate threads of his life together in no particular order: Peace Corps Volunteer in Zimbabwe, young husband and father of two, boy in high school. Each entry, complete in three stanzas, offers insight into apparently unconnected moments of one man’s life, but with a weight and body that make up a whole.
These short pieces can stand alone and many have appeared in literary journals, but I am glad I met them first as a collection. All are interesting, deft, clever, moving, but it is the whole that resonates, lingers and inspires. Perhaps we all should play with the multiple layers of meaning in a single word. My guess is that like many experiences of exploration, Berman uncovered more than even he knew was latent or possible.
I will resist my temptation to spell out the magic of Then Again in more detail. I urge you to read the book yourself, and discover Berman’s reentry into his own life under the spell of homographs.
Kathleen Coskran (Ethiopia 1965-67) writer and teacher, has appeared in several anthologies and her collection of short stories, The High Price of Everything, won a Minnesota Book Award as did Tanzania on Tuesday: Writing by American Women Abroad which she co-edited. She is the recipient of numerous awards, fellowships and residencies including a National Endowment for the Arts Fellowship. She has recently published three volumes of her flash fiction, called The Pocket Story Collection, which are available on her web site, www.kathleencoskran.net.