Home Book editor “Virtue”, by Hermione Hoby: an excerpt

“Virtue”, by Hermione Hoby: an excerpt

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[ Return to the review of “Virtue.” ]

It was eleven years ago. By that I mean about a thousand, because at the time, of course I had no idea that we were in the days before. My pitiful 23rd birthday and the Technicolored year that followed – that colorful, richly lit period of Paula and Jason, my twin movie stars who were for a moment nothing less than my life – everything now appears to have occurred on a certain stock of discontinued films. This is how it happens, I guess, that people who were once more real to you than life itself end up feeling like stock photo models in a collection of well-framed photos printed on your once impressionable brain.

By November, however, I was new to town, with few friends, or at least no one I wanted to eat turkey or birthday cake with. After Dartmouth, the second least impressive of the Ivies, I had been anxious enough to delay adulthood to spend a final school year at Oxford, where my voice sagged with the round vowels of affluent English youth – the same youth who had ribbed me, cared for me, and even somehow fetishized me for being a goddamn Yank. During my first months in Manhattan, I was therefore often taken for an English expat. With strangers, I generally accepted this, whispering the “London” lie with a shy smile when a cashier or barista asked me where I was from. In truth, my hometown was Broomfield, Colorado, a new agglomeration of prefabricated housing estates squatted on level, treeless land in an area that was neither Denver nor Boulder and only stood out for its in-between. If I could offer you a vivid image of my teenage years, it would look like this: I’m lying on my bed with the flat screen screaming below and the little Morrissey who lives in my head sings plaintively: “And when you wanna live.” , how do you start?

When the Oxford boys in blazers found out I was from Colorado, some enthusiastically mentioned their trips to Aspen or Vail, or the less informed mentioned the Grand Canyon of the Colorado River, and I was smiling vaguely and changing my mind. subject because I knew it would be embarrassing to them to learn that I was poor enough never to have my feet tied to my skis and that I hadn’t even managed a road trip to Arizona. I was an only child, a former fat kid, son of a dental nurse named Kimberly who ran a side business on Etsy and made personalized plasticine wedding cake decorations. So our window sills were populated with blissful little pairs of round figures with miniature button eyes, and our little house reeked of the fumes they emitted during cooking, which made me think – unmistakably, unacceptably – of the Holocaust.

[ Return to the review of “Virtue.” ]

My mother’s life had been a succession of disappointments, the main one being the departure of my father a few weeks after I conceived. That is, nineteen years before I too decided to leave her to Broomfield, abdicating all future responsibility for her sadness. She named me Luke. The day I arrived in Oxford, I became Luca.

Twenty-three is too young for almost anything. There was a boy in Oxford who maybe was a little in love with me, or a little in love with me. (He had once left a wad of printed poems under the door of my dormitory – Cavafy, O’Hara, Miguel Hernández.) His father was old buddies with a publisher in New York, and so, with shameful passivity, I let the poor kid edit my cover letter — and by Edit I mean rewrite – and before I knew it, I had gotten a nine month internship that I didn’t deserve much in a posh American literary magazine, an August quarterly from 1923 that published novels of famous writers, reviews of important books, and interviews with literary eminent people. His covers were remarkable enough to be available as framed prints. I had never read the thing. I was a fake, in other words, even though I turned out to have a lot of company.

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