‘Sarah Cole, A Type of Love Story’ by Russell Banks

A young good-looking lawyer in a three piece suit is sitting in a bar in Concord, New Hampshire when he is approached by a woman in a cowboy hat: Sarah Cole. She is the most unattractive woman he has ever seen, and she has come to talk to him because her friends dared her to. The lawyer and Sarah become friends, then become lovers. And then, the relationship flounders. “I was pretty, extremely so,” he explains, “and she was not, extremely so, and I knew it, and she knew it.” But it is the class divide that makes the man most uncomfortable; when she brings him to gatherings with her friends and family, notes the lawyer, he has nothing to say to anyone after he is introduced. ‘Sarah Cole, A Type of Love Story’ is about different kinds of longing – longing to connect with someone you think you do not have permission to connect with, and, after having destroyed the possibility of that connection, longing to revise past actions. The lawyer’s brutality doesn’t kill Sarah Cole, who we learn early on died in unrelated circumstances, but ten years after he last saw Sarah, he feels that he mortally wounded her and reckons with his own monstrousness.

From Success Stories (Harper Collins), first published in The Missouri Review, 1984. You can hear Russell Banks reading the story here