Dutch Treatment
by D E Fredd

Black Lawrence Press
First Collection Awards: Winner, 2006 Black River Chapbook Contest

"Denise stares at me. Is it because I got her chardonnay which she hates, or that I’m making a complete ass out of myself?"

Reviewed by Alex Thornber

Dutch Treatment is a remarkably short collection of just three stories by D E Fredd. It comprises of two short stories of average, assumed-modern day, characters involved in business meetings and networking parties bookending a story set in 1939 Poland. The link is tenuous at best, the business meeting is taking place in Europe, but perhaps no link was intended. Regardless, these bookends are the really interesting pieces.

The title story, Dutch Treatment, is about three business partners/drinking buddies who are going to The Netherlands and Belgium for a pitch. One of them, the narrator, is trying to convince his buddies to let him bring along a female friend of his who speaks several languages to show Europe they mean business. He is instantly discouraged on two fronts. Firstly, it will cost them some seven thousand dollars to bring her along, and secondly, her aesthetic appeal is ridiculed, along with her behind, which is likened to the Eifel Tower, a cargo plane and various other less than imaginative comparisons.

The immediately striking thing about the opening conversation to this story is that it is horrendous in content but, if you spend enough time in bars, you can hear these sort of conversations happening all over; from mocking last night's drunken hook-ups to a pride-reinstating insult after being knocked back. The dialogue here is so crisp, naturalistic and understated that it creates a sense of tension akin to what you’d likely feel if you were on the next bar stool.

The friends suspect all along that the narrator is attracted to the girl, Gretchen, and as the story develops it becomes obvious. Through surprise concert tickets and a rather hilarious scene during the sales pitch in which, after being secretly insulted in another language, Gretchen and the narrator stage a scene which lets the insulters know they were not only heard but understood, the two appear close. However, Fredd retains a tight hold of his story, and the reader, by leading it down a path towards a happy and romantic encounter but refusing to be carried away with it.

There is a bedroom scene at the end that seems on the surface as if it could have been recycled from any number of TV shows where the girl goes to the bathroom to "freshen up" and return to the man waiting for her in bed. Yet when reading closely the brilliance of this scene comes out; it feels not like a formulaic encounter but a natural one played out by two characters influenced by too much TV.

The final and comically tense story, Secure Your Own Oxygen Mask Then Assist Others, is the story of an underachiever attending a party full of achievers. The underachieving narrator is rude, utterly self obsessed but also endearing in an almost Bukowskian way. He is fed up with his successful wife and craves some of the attention she gets so he does it the only way he knows how, being a nuisance. When asked what he does he tells everyone he meets a different story, he thinks about having an affair and wife swapping and critiques the women in the room, comparing them to his wife.

There is also a fantastically funny part where his wife asks him to get her a glass of Pinot Noir and he deliberately gets her Chardonnay, which he knows she hates just, it seems, so she will look at him. Fredd is brilliant at writing male characters it is difficult to truly like and equally difficult not to find interesting.

The chapbook as a whole is somewhat strange because the middle story is not as interesting, perhaps amplified by the fact that it doesn’t feel congruent with the tone of the other two included here. The story, Steiner Requests His Hole Be Dug In Poland, is about a soldier/prisoner in Poland during the war. The story is composed of scenes of an interrogation juxtaposed with what feels like diary entries about war. The various components flittered back and forth a little to frequently and subsequently there was no time to get enveloped in any of the fragments. It is an interesting idea, as well as narrative structure, but would more likely support a story longer in length allowing the reader to get involved and care about the character.

As an insight to Fredd’s writing, however, this collection is a triumph because it was interesting enough to make me want to read more of his work.

Read a story by this author in Wordriot

Alex Thornber writes short stories mostly, although he does write other things too. His fiction has been published in places like Metazen, The Wilderness House Literary Review, Full of Crow and The Pygmy Giant.
Alex's other Short Reviews: "The Collected Stories of John Cheever"

A J Kirby "Mix Tape"

Susan Tepper "Deer and Other Stories"

Darlin' Neal "Rattlesnakes & The Moon"

Tantra Bensko "Watching the Windows Sleep"

James Franco "Palo Alto"
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D E Fredd lives in Townsend, Massachusetts. He has had over one hundred and fifty short stories and poems published in literary reviews and journals. He received the Theodore Hoepfner Award given by the Southern Humanities Review for the bext short fiction of 2005 and was a 2006 Ontario Award Finalist. He won the 2006 Black River Chapbook Competition and received a 2007, 2009 and 2010 Pushcart Nomination. He has been included in the Million Writers Award of Notable Stories for 2005, 2006, 2007 and 2010.

Read an interview with D E Fredd