#Undateable; Toolkit Reading
August 4, 2011 | by Lorin Stein
Inspired by the new hashtag sensation, who are your top “undateable” literary characters (and your top “dateable”)? —Rhonda
Heathcliff is definitely up there. So is Cathy. (My favorite entry is “Detective, possibly with Asperger Syndrome, opium addict, involved in bromance with roomie.”) At the risk of double-dipping, this week I’d award the palm to Harriet, narrator and heroine of the aforementioned After Claude:
“I’m not a charlady. I’m a sensuous woman. Please, Claude, please. I’m not asking you to take me to rapturous heights. Your feeble efforts mean more to me than all your mountain goats rolled into one. Remember how it was for us at the beginning, Claude? Gigantic. You were a tidal wave. All right. Maybe it’s not in you to maintain that hectic pace. I don’t care. I’m not like other women. I’m not asking for heaven, Claude, I’m just asking to be held.”
When the echo of my shrill voice died out, there was a resounding silence left in the room, as if a monster rock-and-roll concert had ended on one abrupt note.
“Harriet, don’t cry.”
“Why not? After all we’ve meant to each other, suddenly you’re horrified by my touch.”
Claude, completely dressed, took my hand and held it tightly. “I’m sorry if I’ve given you that impression, Harriet, because it’s not correct. I had no right to blame the breakup on you.”
“There doesn’t have to be a breakup. I don’t want to hear about breakups,” I wailed.
“You’re a beautiful girl, an intelligent girl, a sensitive girl. It’s just that we’re not suited.”
“Are you determined to spend your life with a stupid slut?”
Claude sighed. “I need to be alone.”
“What is this suicidal despair? So you haven’t been King Farouk for a couple of weeks. It’s not such a tragedy.”
The most dateable woman—the most dateable character—I can think of is Viola in Twelfth Night, but my eleven-year-old self would have killed to have a Coke with Jolenta, of The Book of the New Sun.
Dear Mr. Stein, I love Wallace and Gromit. I want to be a claymation artist! My mom likes The Paris Review. She told me to read a book. She says those arts-and-crafts books with play dough don’t count. Do you know a book about clay?
That’s some pretty fancy spelling you’ve got there, for an unlettered, clay-obsessed tot. “Play dough,” indeed. The correct spelling is Play-Doh, but as the classicists used to say, lectio difficilior potior. Do you know what that means, Jessie? It means that when six-year-old pica patients start throwing around silent gh’s where none belong, I smell a rat. Tell your “mom” you’ll read a book as soon as you’ve caught up on Mr. Bill.
I grew up on a rural farm and work as a wildlife conservationist. My wife and I share a love for the outdoors, but I’m afraid to tell her that I hide espionage novels and books like Age of Innocence in my tool shed. Do you know of any other books regarding class struggle, Oxford-like settings, and secrets? Also, preferably editions that fit within a standard toolkit.
That would be The Go-Between. Class struggle, check; secrets, check. No Oxford, only a nightmarish English boarding school, but the New York Review Classics edition it’s guaranteed to fit in any toolkit. Even if the experiment has never been tried before.
Have a question for The Paris Review? E-mail us.