From His Wife Leaves Him by Stephen Dixon



*Original manuscript


Stephen Dixon has been nominated for the National Book Award twice, in 1991 for Frog and in 1995 for Interstate, and has earned a Guggenheim Fellowship, the American Academy Institute of Arts and letters Prize for Fiction, the O. Henry Award, and the Pushcart prize. He graduated from the City College of New York in 1958 and is a former faculty member of Johns Hopkins University. 

  • Ryan Nolan

    I like the tension in this story because it’s a subdued
    tension that, by itself, is not tension at all – unless it is perceived as
    being so. I have been in a situation just like this before, and it’s a type of
    tension that gnaws away at your inside worse than a vat of dip at an unwanted,
    cartoon shoe. A rivalry within a relationship is always a potential time bomb. But
    the true questions here are: what are the character’s REALLY thinking?

    Martin keeps insisting that he is not jealous, and is happy
    for his wife; while she keeps insisting that he is jealous, and that she
    shouldn’t take it. The wife’s words sound about 25% comforting and 75% “I
    win,” while Martin sounds 25% congratulatory and 75% “I won’t concede
    defeat.” And this carries on right until the last line where Martin
    finally acknowledges the jealousy factor. Perhaps the next line would be the
    start of a fight? Given the title of the story, I’d say yes.

    The entire story is written in the past tense, third person,
    and the title is in present tense. The title inputs the tension. Without the
    title, then the story would just be about two people having a “how was your
    day” conversation.

    So my take away from this is the importance of inner
    monologue in relation to the overarching point of the story.

    • Justin Sloan

      Good insight, Ryan – I read it at first without thinking of the title, but you’re right, that changes quite a lot!

  • Kyle Noe

    Stephen Dixon paints a beautiful picture of conflicting internal emotions surrounding an otherwise innocuous interpersonal exchange. The juxtaposition between the turmoil the character is feeling on the inside and the empathy he must display on the outside reveals an intimacy and deep emotion about a relationship that serves as the individual’s filter through which his own life can be distilled and seen for its truth. As I read, I can feel his crushing defeat juxtaposed with pride for his wife, the mixed emotions, the situational irony of a moment that is both tragic and wonderful, and the vulnerability the author is demonstrating by diving into such sincere emotions.

    HIS WIFE LEAVES HIM successfully fulfills its intended purpose of capturing powerful conflicting emotions without forcing it on the reader. I think it’s most successful because of the author’s willingness to allow room for the reader to breathe in the meaning almost indirectly.

    • Vipra Ghimire

      I really liked this story too. The writing allows for a very fast-paced reading. I read Ryan’s note below and in reading your, note, Kyle. The dialog really brings out Kyle’s phrase, ‘conflicting internal emotions,’ that exists in the wife when she relays her news to her husband. In my second read, I got that the title meant that the wife is leaving, professionally, the husband behind. I wonder if the husband is being sincere, though. I think the wife is extremely concerned about the potential for her husband to be jealous. I read the husband’s constant reassurance, and especially his last line, “What a thing to say,” as something sincere. He’s astonished that his wife would think he would not be happy for her. In fact, it is the wife who does not want to celebrate. I think she wants the husband to have a different reaction than the one he does. Finally, I like the description of the room in which the husband is in. He’s in a shared space that is primarily his study, but also serves as a storage room. There is no door. So, he’s open to his wife and philosophically, ideas coming right in. This speaks to Kyle’s other phrase too: ‘reader to breathe in the meaning.’

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