The Hunter and other stories of men
David Cohen’s imagination, as evidenced by his short-story collection, The Hunter and other stories of men, is a truly remarkable thing. The titular story is narrated by a property developer whose construction site is plagued by an influx of ibis. He’s also troubled by the disappearance of his old site manager, but replacement Henrik is determined to evict the birds and tries drones, starter pistols and Ed Sheeran at high volume, but nothing works. When the body of Henrik’s predecessor is discovered, riddled with beak punctures, Henrik declares war.
In “The Case of Nathan Gant”, an Israeli psychiatrist is charged with treating sufferers of Jerusalem syndrome, a psychotic disorder whereby visitors become overwhelmed by the spiritual significance of the city. His latest patient, Nathan, is an Australian traveller and the revelation he receives promises a specific kind of salvation.
On the whole, Cohen’s men aren’t coping too well with life: they’re disaffected and overwhelmed, obsessive and maladjusted. They frequently travel as a means of exploring themselves and they long for something tantalisingly out of reach. In “Lament of a Bus Stop outside the Benrath Senior Centre”, the (male) Dusseldorf bus stop in question is a replica in front of a dementia unit, positioned so wandering residents have a place to sit and wait. He’s tormented, though, and longs for the day “… I will take my rightful place among the real stops, with actual buses, with genuine timetables, with authentic passengers travelling hither and yon.”
The men also fall into the trappings of masculinity as a refuge from their disempowered lives. In “Pioneer”, Dennis decides to build a log cabin in his backyard and gradually finds himself becoming more frontiersman, less suburban lawyer, and begins foraging/stealing his building supplies. Elsewhere, an unemployed office worker finds a job impersonating a woodcutter for the benefit of waving passengers on a Puffing Billy-type tourist train, only to find himself morphing into the character.
There is some filler here, as in most collections, and many of the first-person narrators sound the same, which is a shame. Frequently, the stories seem on the brink of wonderful, as if they’ve been abandoned one draft before their full expression. Cohen is a writer less interested in subtle characterisation or lyrical prose than in his poignant set-ups and what they say about contemporary masculinity. LS
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This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on Sep 1, 2018 as "David Cohen, The Hunter and other stories of men ". Subscribe here.