Issue #90: Love is in the Ether

What struck me, the first time I read “Love is in the Ether,” was the clean narrative style, and the simple beauty of the language. The words and phrases on the pages here have been pruned and trimmed and cared for in a way that, like Raymond Carver and Amy Hempel’s work, looks deceptively easy. It reminded me of something one of my first writing teachers, Blanche Boyd said, about how to write a story. “Write a beautiful sentence,” she said. “Then write another one, and another, and another.” In a good short story, every sentence is labored over, until it reads so smoothly that you barely notice when the magic happens, and then it does, in spades. This story is adorned with sentences that stayed with me, long after I put it down:

“Oh yes, you continue to produce love, in buckets and gallons, as if you were still needed. Someone forgot to inform your heart: you’ve been laid off.”

“There is always one in the front to put her hand on your foot when you read a story aloud, reverently, as though it were a precious thing, encased in a jeweled sheath instead of a dusty shoe.”

“He held it, you let him, why not?”

“You are a beginner in this world.”

In twelve short pages, Laurence Dumortier is able to make us care enormously about Beatrice–following her through her grief and out the other side–and she does it by stringing these lines together, like perfect beads on a necklace.

3 thoughts on “Issue #90: Love is in the Ether

  1. The language in this piece really is so beautiful–I really felt moved while reading how Beatrice begins to to dissemble, reassemble her life in the face of tragedy.

  2. In her author interview, Laurence Dumortier mentions that readers of her story questioned the use of the second person. I’m not surprised. In creative writing classes especially, it’s often said that authors like Lorrie Moore and Jay McInerney have effectively ruined the form by inspiring a million lesser imitators. Yet like Hannah, I was struck by the voice of this story. It wasn’t until several pages in that I really processed the “You” narrator. As with the list format, the story proves the other MFA truism–there’s always room to work with supposedly worn out forms. To me, the second person in Moore and McInerney is all about putting the reader off-balance, questioning the narrator’s identity and the reader’s identification with the narrator. In this case, Beatrice Worth Longfellow is both distinct and sympathetic, which is probably why people suggested a more traditional perspective. Beatrice is seemingly addressing only herself, using the “you” for immediacy and intimacy. So much of getting a character right is about locking on to her exact voice. Beatrice is Beatrice in part because she uses the second person.

  3. I love the observation that Beatrice is using the “you” to address herself, because the story has a real sense of intimacy and even immediacy, despite the fact that the events are so remote. I think this has something to do with the use of the second person, which I didn’t even notice until the story was over. When I read, I had a sense of eavesdropping on her thoughts, and I think if the story had had a more traditional voice — even a “more intimate” first person — I wouldn’t have felt as close to the character’s observations. Perception, and the joy in details, played a bit part in this story for me, and the “you” definitely contributed to bringing me into the character’s thoughts.

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