book Crazy Love by Leslie What

reviewed by R. A. Rycraft

Published in Issue No. 137 ~ October, 2008

Leslie What’s Crazy Love (Wordcraft of Oregon, 2008) is a story collection detailing the varied forms of loneliness. While it cannot be denied that love plays a role in each of the stories found in this engaging, witty and often comical collection, loneliness is key to each character’s dealings with the phenomenon of love. There are several stories of loneliness born of fear, self-delusion, and the unremitting insecurity associated with loving. Sex is often isolated from love; death and love are synonymous; and being realistic to a fault leaves you in cloud-cuckoo-land. At times, What’s stories make us wonder at our own propensity to rationalize our way to the truth we desire, rather than deal with the truth that is.

In “Finger Talk” we find that the first person narrator, an extremely
lonely woman, has an unusual attachment to Koko, the “talking” gorilla. One factor that links the narrator to Koko is that she, too, is a talking gorilla, delivering candy and flowers while dressed in a gorilla costume. In fact, throughout the story the narrator is rarely clothed in anything other than her gorilla costume, clearly suggesting some kind of metaphoric sisterhood between the two. In addition, they are both utterly alone and obviously consumed by lonesomeness. Koko has a surrogate human mother who loves her, but a human being, however well-meaning, cannot replace the companionship of other gorillas.

The narrator has no family – her mother has recently died – but she has a relationship with Tom, whom she refers to as her boyfriend, a guy whose interest in the narrator is strictly carnal and has nothing to do with
love, companionship, or responsibility. This sets-up an added link between the narrator and Koko: Koko has lost her “baby,” a kitten the gorilla nurtured and loved, and the narrator, now pregnant, is contemplating losing her baby by having an abortion. However, before the narrator takes that drastic step, she tries to convince Tom to love her, an unrealistic but desperate aspiration. She gives him sex to gain love. She suppresses self even as she seeks to satisfy her own desires.

Or seems to until she experiences one genuine moment of communication with Koko, leading to self-discovery. There is nothing sentimental about What’s story. She leaves the reader pulling for the narrator, while also recognizing that it is impossible for her to persevere. Or can she?

There is a lot of fear embedded in some of these stories. Men and women fear spending their lives alone, but also fear the possibility of spending their lives with one another. Often there is potential for companionship within reach, but the character, burdened with the baggage of insecurity, isn’t capable of overcoming her fear of closeness.

In “Babies,” pregnant Roni Sue experiences fear that on the surface seems very commonplace. She fears losing her husband Marc’s love, and she fears for her six unborn babies: “So many things could go wrong, she thought, and most of them were things you could do nothing to prevent.”

Fearing for the welfare of her babies is particularly poignant for Roni Sue because there is something unusual about them, something so peculiar that her doctor suggests she abort them, a suggestion she rejects and does not share with Marc. As Roni Sue’s body grows more swollen and distorted, she becomes convinced that the pregnancy has cost her Marc’s love. Not a problem. Roni Sue, in her need to possess unconditional love, rationalizes carrying her bizarre brood to term since the love of six trumps the love of one.

In “The Cost of Doing Business” – a Nebula Award-winner – Zita is a
surrogate victim. But she is not your common, run-of-the-mill victim. She is high-brow, taking on only “big jobs,” those that cause serious injury and often land her in the hospital, but are more satisfying. Her clients are those people who would “rather see someone else suffer.”

The irony here is that Zita is a genuine victim, suffering loss so great that accepting the suffering of others, no matter how debilitating or horrific, is nothing compared to the relentless pain she lives with day in and day out. There is no loving god offering grace in this story.

Zita’s role as surrogate victim is an act of self-flagellation that will last as long as she lives, an impotent attempt to atone for an unforgiveable moment of pleasure.

In “I Remember Marta,” a man’s self- delusion is literally portrayed
through his selective memory loss; he knows he sleeps around but he can’t remember the sex. It’s an amusing but no holds-barred look at the stereotypical male-after-one-thing. But more than that, this story digs into how people, regardless of gender, rationalize their sexual behavior. James Speck has had sex with every woman at his work but: “It was terrible-not remembering about the sex, like never getting sex at all-a modern day horror story!” The only sexual conquest James Speck can recall is Marta. And even sex with Marta is a vague memory that has everything to do with the consequences of sex and nothing to do with pleasure associated with the actual act. In What’s world, people like James Speck don’t recall sex because it has become so routine. Sex has no meaning, and, when all is said and done, is ultimately boring.

Characters such as James Speck treat sex like any other nagging bodily function-relieve yourself and move-on. Who needs love for that? Not James Speck.

“The Mutable Borders of Love” is another story about self-delusion,
this time set in some fantasy world where lovers are locked in a love-battle to the death. Marietta loves Asher who has survived the love of many women, and, apparently, Asher loves Marietta who has survived the love of many men. Survival, for Marietta, means possessing the strength to spurn expressed love before expressing love herself. She is one of John Donne’s sublunary lovers, attached to this world and incapable of embracing the sort of spiritual transcendence Donne associates with sharing a deep and lasting love. Marietta, like so many of us made insecure by the uncertainty of reciprocated love, misses the point. In this story, people who dare to express love experience a physical death and a spiritual awakening. Those who don’t express love condemn
themselves to a never-ending cycle of emotional isolation and loneliness.

To what lengths will most of us go to cure loneliness? Time and again the author’s response is found in the details-any lengths, whatever it
takes. These are stories about self-delusion and how desire and yearning rarely end in love, how sex and love are mutually exclusive and often malignant.

Ironic and uncompromising, Leslie What’s collection is also unfailingly humorous and boldly creative, frequently outlandishly so. What has written an enlightening examination of the most crazy-making endeavor in which our species obsessively engages. It drives us crazy-Crazy Love.

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R.A. Rycraft has published stories, essays, and poetry in a number of journals and anthologies, including PIF Magazine, Perigee, VerbSap, The MacGuffin, and Calyx. Winner of the Eric Hoffer Best New Writing Editor's Choice Award for 2008, Rycraft lives in Sun City, California.