Though the title of Bingham’s new novel suggests one half of a comedy team, the feelings of the protagonist, Louisville college professor Colby Winn, are no joke. When Colby picks up hitchiker Ann Lee Crabtree, his initial interest in the free-spirited woman almost immediately becomes obsessive.
To his friends, particularly I. and Martha Weekly, who are expecting their first child,Colby’s infatuation with Ann Lee seems like a good thing. But it’s soon clear that he’s out of control. In one of the book’s many dead-on observations, the initial consummation of Colby’s affair with Ann Lee leaves him devastated when she refuses to “play” with him because he’s too serious about her. Bingham uses the idea of playing, and Ann Lee’s career – she’s an intinerant actress whose current role involves both violence and on-stage romance – to pry open Colby’s repressed memories, forcing him to review his failed marriage and his relationship with his physically abusive father.
In fact, Colby has a violent streak of his own, which becomes more and more apparent as he watches Ann Lee rehearse her play and develop a relationship with Martha Weekly. Bingham (Matron of Honor) charts Colby’s descent from lonely-but-likable to creepy-and-dangerous with sharp insights about the many forms that possessiveness takes, from the dashed expectations of new lovers (and new fathers) to the ramifications of biology as destiny.
The novel’s strength is the quiet authority with which Bingham writes, making her story disturbing, and disturbingly real.
“We’ve encountered men like Shelby Winn on campus, at parties, in the pages of John Updike and Phillip Roth, and in bed. He’s the needy exploiter, the cynic, the impotent lover of women and of words… Bingham’s Winn in unusual in that he possesses an extraordinary degree of insight into his own behavior…”
“Written in clean, spare language, Straight man is not a book that wastes your time…. The pages turn without effort.”
— The New Mexican
“Winn learns, to his own and other’s sorrow, that he was right to distrust himself, It’s a point of diminishing returns, when he can no longer tell hope and pain apart—an intersection of male yearning and brutality that Bingham maps with precision, sympathy, even humor.”
— The Los Angles Times
“A refugee from a sterile marriage, Winn frets about sexual performance. He’s honest to a fault, confessing he finds women “too graphic, too real, they take up space.” And he’s haunted by his father’s legacy of domestic violence…”
— The New York Times
“…he immediately gets serious about a hitchhike he picks up, a fragile actress with inner strength—and scars—to match his own. As he obsessively follows the girl…., he discovers that he can love, but he can also abuse as his father did during his parents’ complex marriage. Bingham gains our sympathy for her intelligent, appealing characters, than surprises us with behavior we don’t wan to believe them capable of…”
From an interview with the author…
“I very much like to create sympathy for people who are unsympathetic—it’s the way that I, as a writer, have come to understand, and even like, a basically difficult character.
“Fiction fails when it’s too narrow, too close to home. There has to be a large grasp, taking on large characters.”
— The New Mexican