Wednesday, February 22, 2012
Hawthorne Meets Millhauser ...
Not that my news is all that CNN-worthy or anything, but last night I read a story by Steven Millhauser, "The White Glove," which appears in his new collection We Other (which I've blogged about before). It's a wonderful story--I don't know any (many) writers who can so well evoke childhood and adolescence. Although he's a couple of years older than I am, he has not forgotten. He knows about loneliness. About how lonely teens will seek one another out. Find safety. Millhauser has done it since his first novel (Edwin Mullhouse), and he's done it in this story.
Narrating "The White Glove" is a high school boy (a lonely one), and he finds a girl a lot like him. They begin spending more and more time together--and soon he's almost a part of their family: eating meals, helping Dad with chores, etc. Sex is not on Millhauser's agenda in this tale, and he communicates that so well that even when the boy goes to the girl's room to do schoolwork, there's really no sexual energy crackling in his sentences.
He notices that she occasionally--even often--scratches the back of her left hand. He's curious. Doesn't say anything. Then she's absent from school, and when she returns, she has a bandage. He asks; she tells him it's nothing; the doctor's told her not to worry.
And then she comes one day with a white glove covering her entire hand, fully illuminating his curiosity. She knows he's curious; she knows her explanations (and her parents' explanations to him) are not enough. One night, he sneaks out of his house, sneaks up to her room late at night--to take a look. But he can't do it. He leaves. Then he is out of school awhile with the flu. Now she is certain that he's avoiding her.
So she tells him: Come see me on Saturday; my parents will be gone; I'll show you ...
Well, by now any reader's curiosity is red-lining, too. What is under that glove? What's wrong with her hand?
He goes over on Saturday; he tells her she doesn't have to show him--unless she wants.
And so she does ...
And those of you who have read Hawthorne's "The Birthmark" and "Young Goodman Brown" can probably guess. He sees something he can't cope with--although he pretends that he can. But she knows. She knows.
Soon they are not seeing each other at all.
And a little later ... he realizes he misses her ... he goes to find her, and ...
Okay: I haven't given away the really good stuff; some of you may want to read the story. But I'm going to give it away now.
SPOILER ALERT: DO NOT READ ANY FARTHER IF YOU DON'T WANT TO KNOW ...
Under the glove, her left hand is completely covered with hair--like a pelt. It shocks and disgusts him, though he knows that it shouldn't--that she's still the same wonderful girl he, well, loves. But he can't help it.
(Remember the line in that Shakespeare sonnet? Love alters not when it alteration finds. Well, his love altered.
When he sees her later, downtown, she's found another lonely soul--another girl--and when he watches them, he can tell that she doesn't need him anymore. And she's still wearing the glove.