I recently proposed to my girlfriend, and so I spent much of the past few years thinking about engagement rings. In Western culture, at least, the ring has taken on such symbolic significance that we casually and almost exclusively refer to a part of the human body in relation to its function as ring carrier—the one true purpose of the digitus quartus. Spend enough time shopping for engagement rings and one might come to believe that every aspect of a person’s being exists only to honor the extra-human perfection that is the ring. But spend some time in The Paris Review archive and one might find that the ring is as multifaceted as any radiant cut diamond, as subject to human frailty as the promises, ideals, and bonds it has come to symbolize, and as individual as the hand on which it rests.
In issue no. 225, Cristina Rivera Garza’s “Simple Pleasure. Pure Pleasure.” (expertly translated from the Spanish by Sarah Booker) is a story built around the desire for a particular ring:
She walked around the decapitated body and paused to look at the dead man’s left hand. There, around his ring finger, right above the edge of a large pool of blood, was the jade ring. Two entwined, green serpents. An extremely delicate thing. The Detective shot her hand out toward the object but stopped short of touching it. There was something about the ring, something between the ring and the world, that blocked her contact. It was then that she looked at her own hand, immobile and large, suspended in the dawn air.