The opening of The Man Who Could Not Make Up His Mind is absolutely captivating. The main character, Clifford Day Vanderwall, struggles to make a decision of seemingly simple proportions: buy the chocolate cake, or the chocolate cookies? That it is such a monumental task to commit to one or the other, tells one fact about Vanderwall's character, one around which the entire short story revolves. The imagery with which author Brodow describes the dilemma, as well as the character's resolution, captures the reader in the mind of a man who has a vivid and realistic problem with making decisions.
Clifford is an unremarkable member of New York City's social elite, occupying the very dregs of the top 1% of that city. With plain looks, a job dead-ended by his weak leadership skills, and less-than-satisfactory abilities with the opposite sex, he still manages to find a romantic partner. The story follows Clifford through the evolution of that relationship.
Alas, the breathtaking way in which our protagonist is introduced is somewhat muted by the very subdued writing style the author selects for the remainder of the tale. Brodow shies away from dialogue, and clearly prefers the passive to the active voice, so when there is no occasion for vivid imagery, the narrative goes quiet. It's as if the reader, who at first was in a high seat surrounded by the action, has been whisked away to a secure glass bubble, where everything can be seen and heard, but the colors are dulled and the sounds muted and distorted.
Nevertheless, The Man Who Could Not Make Up His Mind weaves a very human tale which is both poignant and engaging. The distant way in which it is told, shields the reader from some very raw emotion, allowing Clifford's take of love and marriage to unfold realistically, but without the danger of that being swept away when he experiences setbacks. At less than 40 pages, the author chooses to focus on developing the main character, and relegating the supporting cast to mere sketches. If they appear as caricatures, it is more because of the narrow way that the protagonist views them than because they were stereotyped or neglected.
Despite its need of a bit of polish, The Man Who Could Not Make Up His Mind is a worthwhile read for those enjoying contemporary fiction. Reviewer: Terence P Ward, Allbooks Review.