Paul Alan Ruben is the author of the new story collection Terms of Engagement: Stories of the Father and Son. Ruben is an audiobook producer/director, and his work has appeared in various publications, including Fatherly and The Good Men Project.
Q: Why did you decide to focus on the relationships between fathers and sons in your new story collection?
A: The investigation of this relationship has been a passion of mine for some time, in particular because of my very difficult relationship with my father, coupled with my desire not to repeat that experience with my son.
Additionally, I’ve always felt that fiction can be a lens through which real-life themes can be coherently examined. I believe this collection adds to the conversation about what I think is this under-appreciated, yet powerfully consequential relationship.
Q: How was the book's title (also the title of one of the stories in the collection) chosen, and what does it signify for you?
A: What a wonderful question. In each story, either the father or the son attempts (with great difficulty) to lay out for the other a set of terms by which he hopes to somehow create a more emotionally satisfactory relationship.
These terms emanate from a deep sense of disaffection and frustration due to the aggrieved party’s feeling that he is not being heard, respected, understood or seen by the other.
Father and son have already failed to work through their estrangement by talking and hearing one another, and so this laying out of terms is a desperate attempt at reconciliation.
Q: The book's portrayal of fathers and sons has been described as one of "intimate enemies." How do you see that idea run through your stories?
A: I think often of the quote that appears before the book’s title page from Slow Man by J.M. Coetzee, “Those into whose lives you are born do not pass away.”
Throughout each story, father and son are inextricably linked by blood and by a complex psychological interrelationship that goes to the core of who am I: as a male, a sexual being, as a father, as a son, as a person.
When that relationship toxifies, and father and son turn angry, hurt, and estranged from one another. They become intimate enemies.
Q: Who are some of your favorite writers?
A: Philip Roth, J.M. Coetzee, Jhumpa Lahiri, Henry James, Albert Camus.
Q: What are you working on now?
A: I’m virtually done with a novel, tentatively titled Raising Philip. It is divided into two books. Book I, “Journey Through The Rabbit Hole,” is told through the eyes of Philip Karlovitz, a man who cannot reconcile who he is with why his wife and son have, to his mind, abandoned him.
Book II, “Family in a Grove,” is told in alternating chapters through the eyes of Philip, his adult son, Markus, and his ex-wife, Sunny (aka Elaine). Here, these three confront what it means to be a family, despite their seemingly separate lives.
Q: Anything else we should know?
A: I’d like to refer to what I mentioned earlier about fiction’s capacity to matter when it comes to real life issues and concerns. I’m very grateful that Terms of Engagement received praise from bestselling literary authors, including T. C. Boyle, and from the mental health community, including James Hollis, Ph.D. (director of the Jung Society in Washington, D.C.), and Dr. Robert Garfield (Department of Psychiatry at UPenn).
This suggests to me that, yes, fiction can contribute to what matters in our real lives, and apropos of my fiction, to what causes father and son to become intimate enemies.
--Interview with Deborah Kalb