This month Guernica’s editors bring you tales of passion and desire.
The Least Cricket of Evening by Robert Vivian
When Robert Vivian talks about the sound of a nearby train in his essay collection The Least Cricket of Evening, he says, “You can’t hear them without feeling something tugging at you, without going into those wide-open spaces in the middle of of your chest where they fill with the ache of emptiness.” While Vivian would not likely call his writing erotica, its lyricism, deeply meditative state, and desire to draw ever closer is erotica for the brain if not the heart.
—Erika Anderson, Editorial Assistant
Wild Seed by Octavia Butler
Here is the worst thing I’ve read about hard-ons this year. It comes from Leo Bersani’s 1978 study, Baudelaire and Freud. It prefaces a chapter called “Artists in Love.” I read it and thought, I feel for you, Baudelaire, but really don’t feel you:
On a completely separate, more elevated note, if you want to learn something about love, read Octavia Butler. Start with Wild Seed.
—Kaye Cain-Nielsen, Managing Editor
Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell
His is not a love story, but Robert Frobisher, the wunderkind composer from the second movement of David Mitchell’s Cloud Atlas, is my very favorite character-in-love. This because for all his vagrant, polyamorous worldliness—his unshakable confidence in his own genius—he’s still reduced like anyone else to lugubrious baby-mush in the face of lust-love: “Eva. Because her name is synonym for temptation: what treads nearer to the core of man? Because her soul swims in her eyes.”
—Reed Cooley, Editorial Assistant, Guernica Daily
Vox by Nicholson Baker
Back in 1992 when online dating didn’t exist and people were compelled to actually speak to one another on the telephone, Nicholson Baker published Vox. The short novel spans the course of single conversation between a man and a woman who’ve met each other on a phone sex chat line. You can’t deny that it’s a bawdy book, they’ve come to one another for a reason. And while the sexy stuff is sexy, it’s the process of these two strangers discovering one another that’s charming. Romantic, even. For Baker’s couple, “it’s like the radio… When what you want for it to be is like luck, and like fate, and to zoom up and down the dial, looking for the song, hoping some station will play it—and the joy when it finally rotates around is so intense. You’re not hearing it, you’re overhearing it.” When dawn comes for the would-be lovers, I found myself enamored with this man and woman who spent an entire night playing with language and learning about one another. They’ve connected. No texts, sexts, profiles, photos, or Googling required. Who would have ever imagined there would come a day when phone sex would seem quaint?
—Lisa Lucas, Associate Publisher
The Claiming of Sleeping Beauty by Anne Rice
The tale follows Sleeping Beauty, a princess lost to fate, as she negotiates, sometimes unwillingly, the intimate world of BDSM, whose first sexual encounter with the Prince would be considered today as “forced rape.” Yet Rice’s ability to put her audience into the minds of her characters allows one to easily forget this significant first encounter as such. Instead, the reader becomes Beauty and like her, soon relents; fingers hungrily lapping away at the soft pages, to the scenes unfolding during her adventures and misadventures as she tries to find herself as a strong young woman amidst the many erotic and homoerotic encounters and forced and obliged sexual acts that play out as the book progresses. If you’re like me, whether sixteen and not sure of your sexuality yet—as I was when I discovered the book—or 32 as I am now, becoming aware of my sexuality, you might just find yourself at first against your will, yearning to not only embody Beauty, but to capture the eyes of her Prince.
—Niquae McIntosh, Editorial Intern
This book is incredibly researched and sometimes sexy, a bodice-ripper for nerds. It can be hard to read Beauvoir and Sartre’s open relationship as “committed,” but they were certainly committed to their particular pact: to being each other’s central but not sole lover, to living fully and freely. The book tells the story of a domestic experiment that was fascinating and complicated and brave. But it’s also, I think, a cautionary tale about intellectualizing one’s own life and ending up brilliant and liberated, just not particularly happy.
—Rachel Riederer, Editor, Guernica Daily
Dom Casmurro by Joaquim Maria Machado de Assis
Promised to the priesthood by his mother, Dom Casmurro’s narrator, Bentinho, tries to wriggle out of seminary school in order to be reunited with his young love, Capitu. He succeeds and marries her, but like Othello grows to be consumed by jealousy after convincing himself of his wife’s unfaithfulness. Dom Casmurro’s lasting mystery, a product of its unreliable narration, is the ultimate truth of Bentinho’s suspicions of infidelity. Bentinho’s reticent voice—the origin of his Dom Casmurro nickname, which translates from the original Portuguese to “Lord Taciturn”—owes much to Laurence Sterne, but is also strikingly ahead of its time. Published in 1899, Brazilian writer Machado de Assis’s most well-known novel is worth reading for its surprisingly modern style, as well as its realistic portrait of nineteenth-century Brazil. Oh, and it’s a great love story too.
—Michael Rumore, Editorial Assistant
A Passage to India by E.M. Forster
If you look only in the usual places, Forster seems to have banished romance from the pages of A Passage to India. Aziz rarely thinks of his late wife and the engaged Ronnie and Adela can’t even manage a lovers’ quarrel. Instead, the bachelors Aziz and Fielding fill the novel with a vibrant yet gentle eroticism. The two are so obviously in love: they cycle through abandonment and yearning, finally reuniting to chants of “Radhakrishna, Radhakrishna,” that timeless expression of sexual-spiritual union. They reminisce and argue, “half kissing” before admitting they cannot forever remain friends. Theirs is a friendship passionate and playful, and through it Forster so eloquently reminds us that so is every deeply felt relationship, every sincere bond. He reaffirms the desire and sexuality wonderfully entangled in our most heartfelt connections. Only in embracing this wholeness can we find comfort in our solitude, live happily with “our loneliness…our isolation, our need for the Friend who never comes yet is not entirely disproved.”
—Lewis West, Intern, Guernica Daily
The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas by Gertrude Stein
It’s easy to think of Gertrude Stein’s The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas as the height of narcissism. After all, in the very first chapter, the poet writes, “The three geniuses of whom I wish to speak are Gertrude Stein, Pablo Picasso, and Alfred Whitehead.” And yet, this is one of the most encouraging portraits of domesticity I’ve ever encountered. While the book does not revolve about their relationship, when Stein describes her companion (writing as Toklas, of course, creating a mental maze for the reader), she does so teasingly and lovingly. Despite the attention-grabbing figures of Henri Matisse, T. S. Eliot, Ernest Hemingway, and—yes—that triumvirate of geniuses, Toklas holds her own in an unassuming way. Stein comes across as prickly at times, but her unfailing tenderness toward Toklas is evident throughout this memoir.
—Erica Wright, Senior Editor, Poetry