The book is, naturally, about Cleo Birdwell's career as the first woman in the NHL. Cleo isn't like other female characters in novels. She's straight ahead; she's funny; she's cheerful. She likes to sleep around. She's kind of a small-town girl, but she's great friends with her loony New York agent, Floss Penrose, who likes to make soup and play strip monopoly with younger men. Cleo is all about simplicity and not over-thinking things, and in tough times she repeats her life's organization scheme: "I just want to play hockey."
Early on Cleo meets up with Shaver Stevens, another hockey player, whose career has been cut short by a rare disease called Jumping Frenchman's. The treatment for this involves being put to sleep in a Kramer cube, which is like a glass box with tubes, and Shaver spends about half the book asleep in Cleo's apartment, having his various needs tended to by Cleo, then by a goth teen from "Nurses Anonymous" while Cleo is at some away games, and finally by Floss herself, while Cleo is on vacation back home.
Women love Shaver -- or, rather, women love a man-in-a-Kramer. First it's Floss, who tells Cleo she must have one for herself. Someone "sensitive, wryly humorous . . . Likes movies, being spontaneous in the Hamptons . . . The longer the sleep period the better." Then it's the woman from Success magazine who comes to do a profile. "That's the most beautiful face I've ever seen . . . If he were mine, I'd keep him in there as long as I could . . . I guess that sounds selfish and cruel doesn't it? I'm sorry." They see his striped pajamas, his serious but kind face, his fit body, and they think, Why can't I have one?
OK, so maybe you're thinking Oh ha ha, cheap throwaway jokes about a certain type of superficiality. But I think the desire for the Kramered partner is more widespread than you might think. Think about it. A TV is kind of like a Kramer box, rendering you temporarily passive while your nutritional needs get met. And people often prefer to have their loved-ones rendered passive by TV than actually interacting with them all the time. Interaction is dangerous. A person engaging with you might say something challenging, or hurtful, or even just slightly less loving than you'd expect. But a person watching TV ... you know he's there; you know she cares; like Floss, you can rely on the knowledge that you've got a companion -- without all the trouble and risk of actual interaction.
Have you never had that feeling, sitting with your friends or your spouse watching some show they like, and thinking, Well, I know for the next little while things will be completely predictable? It's further evidence for my hypothesis that couples, as time goes on, watch more and more movies at home. It suggests a lot of us kind of want what Floss wants, a best friend for life, someone who shares our interests, someone who will always be there, someone who likes being spontaneous in the Hamptons but will probably sleep forever.
At one point Cleo asks the obvious. "I know this is a dumb question, but if he's asleep, what's the point of all those things?" And Floss says, "Just to know something about him. To be secure within myself that I'm involved with someone compatible." I guess it's like having a virtual boyfriend or something, but isn't it nicer and more interesting that he's physically present?
The title of this blog, by the way, refers to Cleo's good-natured refusal to consider the question of what happens when Shaver wakes up. That's when Cleo says, "I don't know. I haven't thought beyond the Kramer. The Kramer is now." That's Cleo for you, living effortlessly in the present. Is it any wonder I try to make her my guide to life?