Literary Halloween Costumes; Romantic Gestures


Ask The Paris Review

What are the most successful romantic gestures in literature? I need to win someone back, stat. Failing that, can you recommend reading to mend a broken heart?

Levin wins back Kitty after behaving like a complete ass, but you may not have time to read Anna Karenina. There’s the moment when Little Miss No Name runs downstairs to say good-bye to Max de Winter, in Rebecca, and it happens early in the book, but maybe that’s not exactly a case of winning somebody back. I’m guessing swordplay and feats of derring-do are not to the point—so I would read Pursuits of Happiness, Stanley Cavell’s 1981 study of what he calls “remarriage comedies,” movies about couples falling apart and getting back together. First you’ll want to cue up the movies in question: The Lady Eve, It Happened One Night, Bringing Up Baby, The Philadelphia Story, His Girl Friday, Adams Rib, and The Awful Truth.

If that doesn’t give you any ideas, readers of this column will guess my first recommendation: the wacky but wise self-help book Love and Limerence, also Ovid’s Cure for Love—full of useful advice, like: focus on the beloved’s physical imperfections—and George Jones, opera omnia.

Do you think joining a private social club—a super old-fashioned one in a historic building whose members have all led long, literary lives—sounds (a) retro and totally cool, or (b) stodgy and a little weird, a misplaced desire for a twenty-something who might be the clubs only member under sixty, and only Jew in history?

Make like Samson in the temple of Dagon—you know what I’m saying? Do it.

What are the best literary Halloween costumes? Im attending a Halloween party and I’d like to win the prize. I am a female and not tall. Should I dress up as Dorothy Parker, Virginia Woolf (for which I will have pockets full of stones), or Allen Ginsberg?

As a little person you could always go as Mario Incandenza.

… Mario II’s incomplete gestation and arachnoidal birth left the kid with some lifelong character-building physical challenges. Size was one, he being in sixth grade about the size of a toddler and at 18+ in a range somewhere between elf and jockey. There was the matter of the withered-looking and bradyauxetic arms, which just as in a hair-raising case of Volkmann’s contracture115 curled out in front of his thorax in magiscule S’s and were usable for rudimentary knifeless eating and slapping at doorknobs until they sort of turned just enough and doors could be kicked open and forming a pretend lens-frame to scout scenes through, plus maybe tossing tennis balls very short distances to players who wanted them, but not much else, though the arms were impressively–almost familial-dysautonomically—pain-resistant, and could be pinched, punctured, singed and even compressed in a basement optical-device-securing viselike thing by Mario’s older brother Orin without effect of complaint.

Bradypedestrianism-wise, Mario had not so much club feet as more like block feet: not only flat but perfectly square, good for kicking knob-fumbled doors open with but too short to be conventionally employed as feet: together with the lordosis in his lower spine, they force Mario to movie in the sort of lurchy half-stumble of a vaudeville inebriate, body tilted way forward as if into a wind, right on the edge of pitching face-first onto the ground, which as a child he did fairly often, whether given a bit of a shove from behind by his older brother Orin or no. The frequent forward falls help explain why Mario’s nose was squished severely in and so flared out to either side of his face but did not rise from it, with the consequence that his nostrils tended to flap just a bit, particularly during sleep. One eyelid hung lower than the other over his open eyes—good and gently brown eyes, if a bit large and protrusive to qualify as conventionally human eyes–the one lid hung like an ill-tempered windowshade, and his older brother Orin had sometimes tried to give the recalcitrant lid that smart type of downward snap that can unstick a dicky shade, but had succeeded only in gradually loosening the lid from its structures, so that it eventually had to be refashioned and refracted in a yet another blepharoplasty-procedure, because it was in act not Mario’s real eyelid–that had been sacrificed when the fist stuck to his face like a tongue to cold metal had been peeled away, at nativity—but an extremely advanced blepharoprothesis of dermal fibropolymer studded with horsehair lashes that curved into space well beyond the reach of his other lid’s lashes that curved out into space well beyond the reach of his other lid’s lashes and together with the lazy lid-action itself gave even Mario’s most neutral expression the character of an oddly friendly pirate’s squint. Together with the involuntary constant smile.

This is probably also the place to mention Hal’s older brother Mario’s khaki-colored skin, an odd gray-green that in its corticate texture and together with his atrophic in-curled arms and arachnodactylism gave him, particularly from a middle-distance, an almost uncannily reptilian/dinosaurian look. The fingers being not only mucronate and talonesque but nonprehensile, which is what made Mario’s knifework untenable at table. Plus the thin lank slack hair, at once tattered and somehow too smooth, that looked at 18+ like the hair of a short plump 48-year-old stress engineer and athletic director and Academy Headmaster who grows one side to girlish length and carefully combs it so it rides thinly up and over the gleaming yarmulke of bare gray-green complected scalp on top and down over the other side where it hangs lank and fools no one and tends to flap back up over in any wind Charles Tavis forgets to carefully keep his left side to. Or that he’s slow, Hal’s brother is, technically, Stanford-Binet-wise, slow, the Brandeis C.D.C. found—but not, verifiably not, retarded or cognitively damaged or bradyphrenic, more life refracted, almost, ever so slightly epistemically bent, a pole poked into mental water and just a little off and just taking a little bit longer, in the manner of all refracted things.

[Footnote 115: Volkmann’s contracture’s some kind of severe serpentine deformation of the arm’s been allowed to stay all woundedly bent in as it heals; bradyauxesis refers to some part(s) of the body not growing as fast as other parts of the body—Himself and the Moms got plenty familiar with these sorts of congenital-challenge terms and many more, re Mario, particularly the variations on the medical root brady, from the Greek bradys meaning slow, such as bradylexia (w/r/t reading), bradyphenia (practical-problem-solving-type thinking), nocturnal bradypnea (dangerously slow breathing during sleep sometimes, which is why Maria uses four pillows minimum), bradypedestrianism (obvious), and especially bradykinesia, an almost gerontologic lentissimo about most of Mario’s movements, an exaggerated slowness that both resembles and permits extremely close slow attention to whatever’s being done.]

If you were not a little person, however, no one would get it. Virginia Woolf’s a great idea—but you’ll want to invest in some hollow rocks, the kind they used to sell for hiding housekeys in. Or maybe ball up some newspaper?

This Halloween, I was thinking of dressing up as Tom Wolfe, but then I looked in my closet and realized I already own a loden-green moleskin blazer, khakis, and a pair of flip-flops—so I might as well just walk around telling everyone I’m the New Tom Wolfe. Problem solved.

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