Ramona Ausubel: “You Can Find Love Now”

Click here to read the abstract of the story on The New Yorker webpage (this week’s story is available only for subscribers). Ramona Ausubel’s “You Can Find Love Now” was originally published in the Jun 9 & 16, 2014 issue of The New Yorker. This is the Summer Fiction edition, so you can click here to see the other stories in this issue.

Click for a larger image.

Click for a larger image.

The shortest of the four stories in this year’s New Yorker fiction issue, I chose to read it first. Finished it a week ago, in fact, and since then have simply confirmed that I have little to say.

“You Can Find Love Now” is a concept story, featuring the (or, at least, a) Cyclops. He’s filling out some kind of online profile for a dating website: “You are lonely, but you don’t have to be. You have so many great qualities!” Having to settle for “cyclops15″ because 1-14 were taken, the eight-foot-tall giant who lives at the heart of a volcano proceeds to answer the typical, lively questions with atypical answers:

Tell the ladies a little more about yourself! What’s your own unique story?

[. . . .]

I teach online English classes, not to get paid but because I like to feel smarter than someone else. I teach all the classic books, except the Odyssey.

Yes, this Cyclops is a lonely man, self-conscious, branching out just a bit in this contemporary society. And that’s about all I got from the story.

It’s not that it isn’t worth reading (well, maybe it isn’t), it’s just that it felt slight to me, a lark. Stylistically there’s some interesting stuff — I really like the humor that comes when he talks about his father: “The upside: my father is the god of the sea, so we can guarantee good weather on our honeymoon cruise.” Also, I was impressed by some of the descriptions, like that the god of the sea “smells like an overcleaned wound.”

Did anyone else get more?

7 thoughts on “Ramona Ausubel: “You Can Find Love Now””

  1. sshaver says:

    That eyeball is too scary.

  2. Post updated to include my thoughts.

  3. Betsy says:

    When I was teaching, my husband said I was a sucker for the bad boys. Meaning I felt my teaching chops were most tested by the ones who didn’t want to be there. So I kind of liked the Cyclops in this story, lurking in his volcano, hardly coming out in the daytime..

    I’m going to wander through the piece and just tell you, Trevor, what it reminded me of. My husband says another annoying trait of mine is that I just can’t let go of an argument, once I get started.

    Anyway, since I’m going to talk all about this, even the ending, I’m glad you’ve already read this.

    First of all, there’s the frame of the on-line dating service. The WSJ just ran a hilarious piece on the trend of men having their pictures taken with tigers for their on-line introduction to the world. Tigers! Apparently there are so many men on-line pictured with tigers that it’s become a tell the originators never intended.

    So I’m imagining the cyclops as a kind of lure for the kind of girl who would see through the pose. On the one hand, it’s a fabrication by a real man; on the other, the writer is really the cyclops. If so, it’s the Cyclops I never knew til now. And that’s fun.

    Right off, there’s the Cyclop’s giant eye. I am reminded of the Freeze phenomenon in the Fight or Flight response. That’s the one where your irises dilate so as to let in as much light as possible, but your limbs fall away into a kind of paralysis. You’re frozen, and your eyes are as big as basketballs. That interested me, as I’ve had that happen to me – cocktail parties, talking to the dean, etc. Anyway, whatever Ausubel intended, the first picture I get is of a guy so frightened of hooking up with a girl that he is reduced to one giant eye, pupil dilated, drinking in the outside world, with all its threat and menace.

    “I sleep hot,” he says. I found that uncanny. My father was a wild man, charming, dangerous, clever, bold, and scared, scared scared. And he slept hot. It was as if he fought against night. What can I say? I was surprised to encounter my father in this story.

    “Choose me,” the Cyclops says. And then he explains – “If you want someone to hold you above his head in the moonlight…”. Well, that’s pretty strange, but I like it. I like the idea of someone that strong, someone who likes the moon, likes its light, someone who would want to offer me up to it. But then he says, “and bite your wrist until….” it bleeds. Well. This is going to be a relationship full of surprises. Which I like. And full of threat. Which I hate to admit, I like a little bit. Mostly because I like taming things. People. Or I like to think I can tame things. Let’s see what he says next.

    He says he’s from Washington State. Aha! And lives in a volcano!

    “I teach on-line English classes, not to get paid but because I like to feel smarter than some one else.”

    This stops me short, makes me laugh. After all, I’m an on-line writer. (You, too, Trevor! What did you think of that?) I have this quick little thought. I could teach that Cyclops something about on-line writing – that it’s not that you feel smarter than everyone else, it’s that there’s something weird about writing anything at all – if you’re wired just right – writing anything at all, even a grocery list, makes you feel you’re all eyes and all brain and it’s like being really alive. . It’s not that you feel smarter than anyone else, it’s that everything else falls away.. Writing has that effect on me. Thinking does. I know everyone else says that exercise makes them feel alive. Well, it does me, too, but thinking – well, thinking is one of the things I’ll miss most when I’m gone.

    Well, and there’s that thing about the on-line writer – the sense of someone listening. It’s not like hearing the barred owl in the middle of the night, screeching and cackling and making you feel like what should I do now. It’s like someone is listening. Oh delusions, I know.

    Okay. I’ll deal. Do I feel smart while I’m writing? Sometimes. Other times I feel foolish. Ridiculous even. But I do like trying to figure out what it is that someone has said in their writing. It’s like I’m listening to them. Taming them, maybe. It’s really annoying to make a mistake, though. Like having a writer write to me and say something really vague about how nice it was I wrote about their piece and sort of got it. That kind of makes me Freeze – like I’m nothing but a giant eye and paralyzed to boot – and I’m only sitting at my house in front of my computer, just waiting for the cackling, hooting owl to wrap its yellow feet around my head.

    But, yes, I do have the sense of someone somewhere listening. Like right now, I am put in mind of Isaac Fitzgerald. that guy that writes for Rumpus and Buzzfeed. Isaac – if you’re listening – I just want to tell you I think it’s neat you’re famous and outrageous. You were famous and outrageous even when you were in eighth grade – my student in my class! You were the only kid who read Michael Shaara’s Killer Angels for a book report that year. Way more in there than anybody knew. Isaac, I really liked that piece you wrote recently in Buzzfeed about the hike up Kilimanjaro with your sister and your Dad. Way to go. I’m listening.

    Back to Business. The Cyclops is an on-line English teacher – but – He doesn’t teach the Odyssey! Made me laugh. I don’t like teaching Edith Wharton. Those faded women on a slippery slope. A little close to home.

    The Cyclops talks about his mother and father. Oh my. People do that. Having been dead for “hundreds of years”, his mother is kind of distant. Cheever country. And his dad – “He’s shitty at love, my dad.” More Cheever country. I feel a novel in the making. I am interested in the problem. After even hundreds of years, the guy won’t stop working. I was thinking the other day – what if I went for my annual physical and the doctor told me that I was going to live for hundreds of years. Maybe I would separate up all the things I want to do into different centuries, and have enough time to get them right this time. Not try to do them all at once, like now.

    Anyway, now the Cyclops is talking about a first date picking blueberries – “in the whitest, cleanest sunlight, tin pails.” That’s an odd sentence, an odd construction. None-the-less, it reminds me of Robert McCloskey. Also reminds me of something I want to do. Makes me think of the way the pail itself is a kind of eye, a kind of reflector, a kind of collector.

    He remembers the girl who never answered his messages after that first date. He kind of falls apart.

    But he recovers. He talks about his life in the forge – making things,making weapons, even making thunderbolts. I know I’m supposed to be afraid of this macho personality. but really, I’m entranced with a guy who makes things, who loves making things, And then he says – “if I’m strong that day…” Wow – just like me. it doesn’t work every day – this being alive. Some days you just aren’t up to it

    But then – suddenly, there’s this confession. How he attacked the opthalmologist who “claim[ed] to be an expert of my organ.” That’s a whiff of dirt, a dose of reality. That’s a come-down. That’s plain scary. Just goes to show how little you know about people you meet on-line.

    And then – the next to last section is terrifying, where he confesses he’s changed, doesn’t lock women up any more, doesn’t taunt them, doesn’t shackle them, doesn’t hurt them any more. This is scary. What have I gotten myself into? Why am I writing about this monster?

    Then he says this thing that sounds kind of surprising and kind of true. When he captures the women, when he shackles them, he’s really trying to catch his father. Hm. Hmmmm. That father who was shitty at love is part of why the Cyclops treats women so badly. That feels, sadly, true. Makes me feel a little hopeless. Except for this. Not all fathers are shitty at love. Not by a long shot.

    Then he says – as if to prove he’s changed – or grown up – “I’ll call you Aphrodite…I’ll tell you I’ve never seen a real goddess til now.”

    That would be nice.

    What is this that Ausubel has written? Trevor, you found it “slight”/ I found it entertaining. I like the last sentence. “Your grandmother will tell you that all the good men are gone, but then here I am, and I’m ready for you.” There’s something in that sentence that hints that he thinks that (I) am as complicated as he is. Or maybe I’m just reading into that.

    So, Trevor – I liked this. I found it funny, and kind of lively, kind of wacky, kind of sad, kind of tricky, in how it does so much in just two pages.

    I just read a Vanity Fair article about how some critics loved “The Goldfinch” by Donna Tartt, and how some people, like James Woods and people at The Paris Review (almost as if they got together on it) hated it. How it was a waste of their time. And typical of people these days and how they’ll read anything, even J.K. Rowling. Now, I can’t stand Harry Potter (it seems to say the same thing over and over), and I just never got what the fuss was over The Hobbit. But I love Mo Willems. And Henry James. And the Brothers Grimm. And there was that Ross MacDonald period. And William Faulkner. And all the feminists. And Jon Cheever and Virginia Woolf and Alice Munro. And I enjoyed this Ausubel. Just did. It was diverting. I liked the simultaneous send-up of on-line dating along side the exploration of what the lonely heart is really like.

    This, what I just wrote, was a little self-indulgent. Or, more than just a little. But I got the pleasant feeling you were up for somebody to chime in, have a tussle. So. Just how slight was it?

  4. Ken says:

    This should be in the “Shouts and Murmurs” column not fiction. As such, it did make me laugh a few times and was clever. There’s nothing wrong with humor. But…put it in the place it belongs.

  5. Ah, frustration! I had a lengthy comment here that just disappeared when I went to see Spain getting thrashed in the World Cup . . .grrrrrr!

    The bottom line of my comment, which I’ll dig to again as quickly as possible, is that I think the piece is fun and there’s nothing wrong with a piece that primarily entertains. Indeed, I think this piece is entertaining — and slight. :-) No necessary exclusion there.

    Your comment, though, is wonderful Betsy. I think your experience reading this was highly personal. I love hearing about what you thought of when you read the piece, but I don’t think the piece can take credit for your insights in this case. Your insights seemed only tenuously connected to “You Can Find Love Now.” For example, your comment on the single large eye is wonderful in and of itself, but it’s highly individualized and personal, and I’m not sure the piece can make room for your insight. And there’s no doubt you felt some connection because you recognized your own father here.

    I think even slight pieces can lead us in all sorts of directions that are interesting in and of themselves, even if we are stretching — in fact, maybe that’s the best evidence that the piece is slight :-) .

    [I really did have a larger comment here, and I'm afraid I've left out some of my tent pegs in erecting this shoddy response -- I'm happy to carry on and try to secure it a bit better]

  6. Betsy says:

    Trevor, as always, generous! what was I thinking? But I did find the Ausubel piece entertaining.

    I will defend the association of the large eye with the Freeze response, though. The cyclops seems very frightened off and on, and somewhat cloistered, and both would be associated with the freeze response.

  7. Greg says:

    Hi Betsy. Your early morning comments on June 13 is my all-time favourite posting by you! You shared so much personal information that helped me really understand what drives you……especially about how writing makes you feel alive……maybe F. Scott Fitzgerald had it right when he said, “It’s always 3 AM in the soul.”

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