In My Date with Neanderthal Woman by David Galef, there’s an intriguing amount of absurdity and fantasy that remains rooted in reality. Winner of the Dzanc Books Short Story Collection Competition, the book plants outlandish situations into normal, mundane circumstances to which we can all relate. [Disclosure: Galef sat on my thesis committee in graduate school.]
In “An Academic Proposition,” Professor Twistle throws out a casual reference to how students can get an easy A as disinterested pupils race towards the exit. Although few professional educators would admit to having such a thought, it’s not a stretch to imagine that all teachers have — at one point or another — wanted to shock their students in such a way.
I’m reminded of one of my high school teachers who often shared the story of how, one frustrating afternoon, she exclaimed to her class, “I could stand here naked and you all wouldn’t even notice.” She always smiled as she said that a student in the back of the room responded with the zinger, “We’d notice. We might not be impressed, but we’d notice.”
Clearly, hours upon hours addressing disinterest students can weigh on any teacher.
“Hiatus,” “What the Thunder Said,” and other stories feature university settings. A professor at Montclair State University, Galef captures the academic atmosphere without falling into many of the “small” and overly-introspective traps that trouble many college stories.
In “Crusade,” a fish-out-of-water professor creates a novel way to endear his cycling habit with the locals. And the charade works out very well for him, for a while, until he eventually encounters someone on the road that he can’t outrun.
Previously published in outlets like The Texas Review, Cimarron Review, and others, the stories in My Date with Neanderthal Woman by David Galef is a compelling read, fun and thought-provoking. The key strength of this book is Galef’s ability to anchor such borderline ridiculous plots and twists in recognizable and relatable realities.