Issue No. 53
When Simon Orff, a thrice-married movie producer, asks his youngest daughter what she learned in school that day she answers, “Did you know a corpse can have a boner?” It’s not what she was taught, “It’s what I learned,” she clarifies, an important distinction in the world of Maggie Shipstead.
Angel lust, the phenomenon from which the story gets its title, is perhaps the last of life’s cruel jokes: a final pillar of desire, adjunct and useless, and unrequited by definition.
The story begins as Simon departs for his deceased father’s house, daughters selfishly in tow: “If he had to referee their squabbles and navigate their quicksilver emotions while sifting through his father’s possessions, he hoped the house would not seem so empty, or he hoped at least the emptiness would be neutral.” If only. Instead, the emptiness proves quite virile. His father’s possessions are souvenirs of his romance with Simon’s mother (who died suddenly of a brain aneurism at forty-eight), further evidence of desire having its own half-life, independent of bodies and their relationships.
As it turns out, postmortem boners have more in common with Simon’s love life than he would like to admit. Lust for his first wife has out-lived their marriage, while lust for his current wife is lifeless—bored, as he characterizes it, with her eagerness, her nubility. In a month he’ll be the same age as his mother was when she died, and already sex for Simon has become existential.
Tempting as it is to judge him, Shipstead undoes this temptation with her firm and empathic prose, supplanting our judgment with her understanding. She populates both “Angel Lust” and her wonderful novel Seating Arrangements with armies of vivid characters. Secondary or primary, young or old, male or female, each is given complete life, making her fiction window and mirror both, a view into others as much as a reflection of ourselves.
Co-Editor, Electric Literature
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Single Sentence Animation
by Maggie Shipstead
Recommended by Electric Literature
SIMON ORFF WAS ON HIS THIRD WIFE. He lived with her in a glassy beach house in Malibu. His second wife had returned to New York after the divorce, and his first, Holly, the mother of his two daughters, his only children, lived with them and Simon’s successor in the hills west of the Hollywood sign. Vanessa was seventeen, and Monterey, called Monty, was thirteen.
On a Friday afternoon in November, a clear day with little surf, Simon stood on his balcony smoking a cigar and scrolling through his phone while he waited for Holly to drop off the girls.
“Dolphins,” his wife Natalie called from inside.
Simon glanced at the ocean. Dorsal fins rolled up through the water like the cogs of submerged gears. “Hmm,” he said, but not loudly enough because she appeared in the sliding door, leaning against its edge, one bare foot flexed against the other’s top.
“Did you see?”
“I saw,” he said. “Dolphins. Beautiful.”
She came to press against his back, her forehead between his shoulder blades. “Very convincing,” she said into his shirt.
Simon suspected she was using him as a windbreak, as she was underdressed even for the warm day, in tiny shorts and a thin t-shirt. Whenever Holly came to the house, Natalie, who was twenty-six and compact as a gymnast, showed skin and bounced around and chirped in a higher, more cheerful voice than usual. No one could say Natalie didn’t make an effort. After two years of marriage, she still acted like she was trying to charm Simon into a second date.
“Doorbell,” Simon said, stubbing out his cigar and taking her hand as he went to answer. He was not above flaunting Natalie to Holly, though he’d never gotten a perceptible rise out of her with any of his women, not even the TV actresses or the movie star. Holly was stoic as a samurai. When he had allowed her to discover his cheating, she had not made a scene, had simply spent a few weeks closing herself to him and then left. He had not cheated because he stopped wanting her—he still wanted her, years later—but, even so, he had succumbed to anticipatory horror of her aging, of losing his desire. Lasting satisfaction seemed impossible when more women were always springing up, when there were so many points of comparison walking around, so many what-ifs.
Before he gave up on shrinks, one had suggested he might be a sex addict, but he thought of himself as more of an idiot savant, terrible at love but almost mystically in touch with the grand biological suction that pulled people together.
Read the rest of “Angel Lust” now available as a Kindle Single
About the Author
Maggie Shipstead grew up in Orange County, CA. Maggie is a graduate of the Iowa Writers’ Workshop and is a former Wallace Stegner Fellow at Stanford. She won the 2012 Dylan Thomas Prize and the 2012 LA Times First Fiction Award for Seating Arrangements. Her short fiction has appeared in The Mississippi Review, The Missouri Review, Glimmer Train, The Virginia Quarterly Review, and Best American Short Stories.
About the Guest Editor
Electric Literature is an independent publisher working to ensure that literature remains a vibrant presence in popular culture. Electric Literature’s weekly fiction magazine, Recommended Reading, invites established authors, indie presses, and literary magazines to recommended great fiction. Once a month we feature our own recommendation of original fiction, accompanied by a Single Sentence Animation. Single Sentence Animations are creative collaborations: the author chooses a favorite sentence and we commission an artist to interpret it. Stay connected with us through email, Facebook, and Twitter, and find previous Electric Literature picks in the Recommended Reading archives.
All rights reserved by the Author. “Angel Lust” will be free for one week before becoming available as a Kindle Single.