The (Older) Dope Which Brings Me to You
- April 2006
- Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill
- ISBN: 156512443X
- Buy online
Which Brings Me to You is an epistolary novel co-authored with Julianna Baggott. It was published by Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill in 2006 in hardcover.
Two rambunctious, romantic flameouts. One boring wedding. One heated embrace in a quiet coatroom. This is not exactly the recipe for true love. John and Jane's lusty encounter at a friend's wedding isn't really the beginning of anything with any weight to it; even they know that. When they manage to pull back, it occurs to them that they might start this whole thing over properly. They might try getting to know one another first, through letters.
What follows is a series of traded confessions—of their messy histories, their past errors, their big loves, their flaws, and their passions. Each love affair, confessed as honestly as possible, reveals the ways in which Jane and John have grown and changed—or not changed—over the years; the people they've hurt, the ones still bruised. The ones who bruised them. Where all of this soul-baring will take them is the burning question behind every letter—a question that can only be answered when they meet again, finally, in the flesh.
"It's a setup the book's cynical narrators would roll their eyes at: Jane and John trade witty barbs at a wedding, make out in the coatroom, but pull back before sex—then vow to trade letters confessing their past romantic misdeeds before going further. And that's why the whole thing works. The constant mix of sweet and sour, of heart-swelling romance and smart-ass banter is the official language of Modern Urban Singledom. The best-selling author duo (he of Candyfreak, she of Girl Talk) make fine use of the epistolary form—with a few funny postal mishaps lending a hip meta touch. Their couple's distinct voices and push-pull dynamic are terrifically engaging. A-" — Entertainment Weekly
"[E]ngaging...recklessly honest, [and] witty...Which Brings Me to You is a sure to be the most insightful and intelligently written novel you've read in quite some time." — Stephanie Szymanski for Bookpage
"Sharp humor and insights into the modern psyche..." — Publishers Weekly
"...piercing, funny, and emotional.... Baggott and Almond's collaboration makes for a delightful and robust work that readers will not be able to put down as they savor every messy confession." — Library Journal
"...sexy, funny and touching..... Keen insights into sex, love and coming to terms with one's own unruly imperfections. A winner." — Kirkus Reviews
I know my own kind. We're obvious to each other. I suppose this is true of other kinds, too: military brats, for example, anarchists, mattress salesmen, women who once got ponies as birthday gifts.
And so I see this guy standing under a saggy white crepe paper wedding bell (so sad, this dopey bell, so exhausted and ghastly, even it wants to be someplace else.) He looks embattled. It was a long service in a stuffy, sour church. All the men have sweated through their suits. The photographer has just told him to smile. The smile is beyond him, but he musters something instinctively boyish then gets hit by the flash.
He's a few people in front of me in line, signing the wedding book. I recognize him as one of my people. Without knowing him at all, I'm already convinced his jacket's too big because it's somebody else's. (My own kind doesn't plan well.) And the cheery boutonniere, already crumpled (Did he bump into something? Did he get hugged by somebody's overzealous mother?) was pinned to his lapel against his will by somebody—his sister? His do-gooder friend who loves him out of a sense of charity, like donating to a non-profit without the tax deduction? And while pinning it, this sister, this do-gooder said things like: This isn't supposed to be agony, you know. They didn't invite you as a form of torture. Still he can't help but take the new couple's abundant joy a little personally, like they're just doing all this to rub his nose in it. The saggy paper wedding bell, really, was that called for? I watch him sign and shuffle off to look for a seat at the edge of things (our kind can't get enough of edges) never mind that he's been given a slip of paper to indicate he's supposed to sit at table seven. (I'm at fifteen.)
My own kind. I'm not sure there's a name for us. I suspect we're born this way: our hearts screwed in tight, already a little broken. We hate sentimentality and yet we're deeply sentimental. Low-grade Romantics. Tough but susceptible. Afflicted by parking lots, empty courtyards, nostalgic pop music. When we cried for no reason as babies, just hauled off and wailed, our parents seemed to know, instinctively, that it wasn't diaper rash or colic, like other babies. It was something deeper that they couldn't quite place or find a comfort for, though the good ones tried mightily, shaking rattles like maniacs and singing Happy Birthday a little louder than called for. We weren't morose little kids. We could be really happy. We were usually pretty well liked.
Once there may have been an early tribe of us. We'd have done alright at cave wall art, less so at hunting. We'd have only started a war if traumatically bored. (Boredom is our most dangerous mood.) But most likely we broke up and scattered. The number one cause: overwhelming distraction.
A wedding is the worst scenario. We're usually single—surprising, I know—and least comfortable when socially required to say Awww, about kittens, sure, or greeting cards, and, in the present case, horrible toasts where weepy accountants say things like: To the happy couple. Reach for the stars! Weddings are riddled with socially enforced Awwwing. And so I'm pretty sure that I'll meet up with this guy at the bar where we'll amuse the bartender, and we'll wander the golf course, talk pop culture, play the good game of cynicism. I'm fairly certain that we'll have sex awkwardly, like in his car or in the coat check once it's abandoned midway through the YMCA and Shout! (though I might regret missing the opportunity of seeing middle-aged men rip their pant seams singing A little bit softer now, a little bit softer now), and later one of us will call the other one or not or we'll both think about it and we won't. It's a little exhausting.
I reach the registry and I wonder who I should sign in as, just thinking associatively: Miss Pacman, Miss Jackson-if-you're-nasty, Miss Led, Miss Taken, Miss Understood. I choose Miss Chubby Petunia because there's something awful about the hug of this dress.
I slide my finger up a few names and there he is: Ted Nugent, address: The Kingdom of Rock and Roll. Under the comments section, he's added what I take to be a seminal Nugent tenet: "I test drive all meat." A nice choice, really, in the grand scheme. Nicely done.
It's a wedding. I refuse to describe it in detail. I don't know why I'm here. I'm suddenly blurry on particulars. Am I related? Is this a work thing? It doesn't matter. The groom hovers around shaking hands. When there's a lull, a hand shortage, he goes out and finds more and pumps away. The bride's face is deep red, almost purple. She's gasping for breath because her gown is too tight. It makes her look like a giant fishbelly.
They've long since wilted under the strain of all this honeyed adoration, but the photographer keeps shooting them and they keep smiling and the guests keep saying Awww. The band ("Fast Train") radiates an indentured pitifulness. Their sound quality sucks, but they make up for it with jacked amps, and a lead singer who wants to be Carol King or Queen Latifah. She can't decide.
I avoid the guy in the crumpled boutonniere during the dancing and the cake cutting and the throwing of stuff. I also avoid the cousin of the groom who seems to think he's the Marquis de Sade of his junior college. When I go out the back door to walk around the grounds, I'm not thinking about my own kind at all. I'm touring my love life, the Madame Tussaud wax museum version that exists in my head. It's plain that there was a dogleg turn I missed, the one that would have landed me in the wedding dress. It doesn't matter how much I hate the dress, of course, or this grand, borderline grotesque affair. It's only that love—something pure and less groping for glamour—still holds a certain promise, and I've done bad by it. I'm guilty of wrongs, but I'm not sure what those wrongs are exactly.
It's dusk. The golf course grass is clipped to an inch. I walk down a bit of a slope. There's a pond, a green, a pole, and an abandoned golf cart. And down a little ways to the left there's a figure, staring at the ground. It is, of course, my own kind. He's escaped, as we tend to do, and is contemplating something.
I walk downhill a little farther until I'm a few yards away. Now I see that he's staring at a white lump on the ground. I say, "Have you heard that Ted Nugent is supposedly at this wedding?"
It's gotten darker by now and he's looking a little softer, a little more toothsome, against the yawning green of the fairway. I can feel the wine I downed through dinner, warm under the ribs. My friend is standing over the cat, glancing down in a way that makes me want to gnaw (softly) on his jawbone. Three thoughts flash through my mind, in quick succession:
- The coat closet
- My failed record
- The total irrelevance of my failed record
I'm a grown woman, after all, at a bad wedding. I should be allowed to fuck Ghandi. "When I first saw you," I say, "I thought we should probably have sex in the coat closet."
He cocks his head, grins, tries to pretend that he hasn't been caught off guard. "You too?"
Copyright © 2006 Steven Almond and Julianna Baggott. All rights reserved. Unauthorized reproduction and distribution is prohibited without permission of the authors.