I adore stories which utilise existing forms and was delighted to read this wonderfully subversive piece. Ausubel takes the irresistible premise of a lovelorn Cyclops, filling in a dating agency profile, to emerge with a story both as hilarious and desperately tragic as any lover of Greek myth might hope for.
First published by the New Yorker in 2014 and available for subscribers to read here. Collected in Awayland, Penguin Random House, 2018
I was introduced to this story by Helen Oyeyemi on a writing course a few years ago. Ausubel’s whole collection has heart – a kind of affection for and between her characters that is not often in evidence in short stories, or is hard to get away with if it’s there (Lorrie Moore does it well). Her stories are also fantastical, and in this one, we zoom in on teenage girls at a slumber party as Genevieve tells her friends, “My parents both have perfect love-arms.” Even though Genevieve adds that it is “almost sick,” the way they use these arms to write love letters to one another, all the other girls hope for exactly this. For in the world of ‘Tributaries’, people grow extra arms from their chests when they are truly in love. There are variations: one girl’s grandmother has seven love-arms; the school teacher Claribel has hands all over her chest that clean each other’s nails while she marks papers. This sounds ridiculous, almost grotesque, but that heart of Ausubel’s that I mentioned prevails, and this exploration of love-arms – the use of fake arms, the presence of wayward or unusual arms – becomes a beautiful meditation on how we love, and love differently.
In A Guide to Being Born, Riverhead, 2013; available online here