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February 15, 2004

Love, Exciting and (Not So) New

by Ron Hogan

The Significant Other and I ventured from the Outer Boroughs to Housing Works Café for a reading sponsored by the Collins Library to mark the reissue of Lady Into Fox, the 1922 debut novel by outlying Bloomsburian David Garnett.

Which, as it happened, nobody read from at all.

Paul Collins began by reading a few scenes from Wired Love, "a romance of dots and dashes" written in 1879 by Ella Thayer--a bizarre tale of 19th-century cyberromance between two telegraph operators in which the female protagonist's early attempt at genderspoofing is quickly debunked by the man's recognition of the feminine touch to her telegraphic fist. Then Tom Bissell read the fire-starting scene from Scott Spencer's Endless Love, followed by the mightily creepy final pages.

And then it was play time, as Todd Pruzan brought out Home Occupations for Boys and Girls, a domestic science manual from 1908 he'd found in a junkstore in Utah. He shared some Valentine's Day activities with us, mostly revolving around cutting up food in the shape of hearts, taught us how to make a miniature croquet set with peas, matchsticks and corks, and then asked if there were any couples in the room. I was about to raise my hand when the Significant Other slapped my arm and told me to shush. Good thing, too, because the couple was brought up to the front of the room so the husband could entertain himself pounding nails into a hunk of soap while the wife made a potato horse, after which they played a round of "Countess of the Huggermuggers."

Such an act is hard to follow, but Rachel Cohen offered up some of Sarah Orne Jewett's love letters to Annie Adams Fields. Dan Kennedy wrapped things up with a hilarious excerpt from Helen Gurley Brown's Sex and the Single Girl about the downside of having an affair with a married man. Who could resist a hot date with the boss when he buys you a chafing dish and invites you to catch Shelly Berman's act at the club?

On the subway ride home, in between catching the Significant Other's eye and intoning, "The Countess of the Huggermuggers is dead," I started Lady Into Fox, which, sure, is a bit mannered, but highly entertaining nevertheless, as the protagonist struggles to adjust when his wife, you guessed it, suddenly turns into a fox. He still loves her and all, it's just so hard to bear when she eats chicken right off the bone and wants to run in the fields chasing wild fowl...

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