What We’re Loving: Reckless Love, Love via Telegraph


This Week’s Reading


From an early twentieth-century postcard. “Kisses from both are now flying about / Where all of a sudden the current runs out.”

After reading David Constantine’s story “In Another Country,” which the Canadian publisher Biblioasis passed along to me, I can’t figure out why a U.S. press hasn’t caught on to his work. He’s won a number of big prizes, including the Frank O’Connor International Short Story award twice—last year, he beat out Joyce Carol Oates, Deborah Levy, and Peter Stamm—and no wonder: this story has me wanting more. (Thankfully, Biblioasis will publish a selection of his stories next year.) The sentences are restrained, the tone muted. The remoteness between the husband and wife of the story is never described but is made palpable through the stillness in their interactions and the spareness of the prose, but the tension created by the slow unraveling of the past within the present is innervating: “What worried Mrs. Mercer suddenly took shape. Into the little room came a rush of ghosts. She sat down opposite him and both felt cold. That Katya, she said. Yes, he said. They’ve found her in the ice. I see, said Mrs. Mercer.” If you get excited, as I do, by stories in which very little happens, then this one is for you. —Nicole Rudick

In 1949, Niki de Saint Phalle and Harry Mathews eloped together, both a bit shy of their twentieth birthdays. The ten-year marriage that followed saw joy, sorrow, electroshock therapy, disapproving parents, reprimanding neighbors, two children, suicidal episodes, numerous infidelities, artistic awakenings, homes in more than four countries, and, ultimately, insurmountable growing pains. In Harry and Me: 1950–1960, The Family Years, de Saint Phalle chronicles their famous, tumultous relationship in verse and image. A remarkably generous portrait of their time together—it includes sidebars of text written by Mathews in response to de Saint Phalle’s account, in which he corrects and addends but never criticizes—this book is a must-read for anyone interested in the work of either artist. Their developmental years were spent in stride, and the naïveté that brought them together (and eventually drove them apart) was instrumental in shaping their artistic desires, particularly the whimsy and color that marks de Saint Phalle’s sculpture. Though the relationship ends, the children suffer, and the hurt never truly goes away, neither party, many years later, seems to regret the marriage. Instead, they go to bat for the young, reckless love that directed the course of their lives. —Clare Fentress

Lots of people are nostalgic for rotary phones and handwritten letters. Not so many have the same wistfulness for the telegraph. But William Saroyan’s “1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8,” from his 1934 short story collection The Daring Young Man on the Flying Trapeze, has left me rethinking the old teletype machine and its nuanced relation to our digital age. The story tells of two telegraph operators, who meet—virtually—by striking up a conversation over the wires. Saroyan’s depiction of the giddy thrill of instantaneous, faceless communication, in which half the fun is in the imagined possibilities, seems oddly anachronistic to the modern reader, but it also predicts the appeal of instant messaging and texting. From the first hello hello hello, the narrator realizes the untapped opportunity of his teletype machine as a personal device of contact, of love: “I had never thought of the machine as being related in any way to me … I began to try to visualize the girl. I began to wonder if she would go out with me to this house I wanted and help me fill it with our lives together.” —Chantal McStay

For years now, I’ve started every Tuesday with Harper’s Weekly Review, a news digest that never fails to delight and inform. Impassive and compact, the Weekly Review is a marvel of juxtaposition—in its three concise paragraphs, the sublime and the profane are never far apart. Events of massive sociopolitical import sit with constabulary notes from all over. A snippet from the latest, for example: “A Massachusetts law firm that specializes in processing foreclosures was evicted for failing to pay its rent. In Fresno, California, a burglary defendant was stabbed to death by his sister’s boyfriend hours after being mistakenly freed by a jury that had checked the wrong box on a court form. Florida authorities discovered twenty-three grams of marijuana hidden in the rolls of a 450-pound man’s stomach fat.” Nothing else gets at the seriocomic vastness of the news cycle like this. In the diversity of experience it conveys, the Weekly Review often reminds me of a line from The Pale King: “What they’d then thought was the wide round world was a little boy’s preening dream.” —Dan Piepenbring

ESPN’s 30 for 30 documentary series has released a new batch of films on soccer history—as if the World Cup hadn’t already taken over my life—from the Hillsborough disaster and Loughinisland massacre to the mystery of the Jules Rimet Trophy, which has been missing since 1983. Watching the series, the one name I had not heard before was Moacir Barbosa, one of the world’s best goalkeepers, whose reputation was forever altered after Brazil’s defeat by Uruguay in the final match of the 1950 World Cup. The film follows Barbosa’s descent from national hero to pool worker: he spent the rest of his life replaying Alcides Ghiggia’s goal in his head. In an interview soon before his death, he said, “The maximum punishment in Brazil is thirty years imprisonment, but I have been paying, for something I am not even responsible for, by now, for fifty years.” —Justin Alvarez

Most know Thornton Wilder as that guy who wrote the hit play Our Town. But he’s also an awesome novelist. His best is The Eighth Day, a Great American Novel to rival any other that has sewn that badge on its sash. I’m currently finishing up Theophilus North, a novel told in a series of vignettes about the titular character’s various well-intentioned schemes to help residents of Newport, Rhode Island, in the summer of 1926. It’s an entertaining and clever summer read sprinkled throughout with Wilder’s sharp insights into humanity. “‘I can’t stand being loved—love?—worshipped! Overestimation freezes me. My mother overestimated me and I haven’t said a sincere word to her since I was fifteen years old,’” one character says; another responds, “‘All love is overestimation.’” —Andrew Jimenez

Last week, Blake Bailey wrote for Vice about Nabokov’s unpublished notes from the 1962 Lolita screenplay. In March 1960, Nabokov was in California, renting a villa in Brentwood Heights; he met with Stanley Kubrick at the latter’s Universal City Studio, where the two began collaborating on cinematizing the novel. Nabokov was enamored with the task of screenwriting. He noted, years later, that “only ragged odds and ends” of his script were used in the final draft, but Nabokov’s screenplay—like the novel, and like Kubrick’s film—is alive with the incandescent, euphoric Nabokovian voice. His notes give tangible faces to Humbert and Lolita, and his depictions of scenes read like his prose: “In the aura of light from the passage, Lolita sleeps angelically. Tom shakes his head in dismissal of evil, in reaffirmation of young innocence …” —Yasmin Roshanian