Maggie Shipstead’s wonderful short story, “Angel Lust”, is featured today on Electric Literature’s Recommended Reading. Electric Literature co-editor Halimah Marcus’ comments on the story:
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
SEATING ARRANGEMENTS (Knopf/Vintage) is out now in paperback.