Kisses and Irony

“I thought we should talk about seeing other people,” I said.

We were sitting on the sofa. My boyfriend, the aggressive one who’d found me at JC Penney three months before, was leaning against the armrest his legs stretched out in front of him. I sat facing him, perched on the other armrest my elbows on my knees and my hands clasped.

you can see the sofa!
you can see the sofa!

“You don’t have to worry,” he said. “I’m not seeing anybody else.” He patted his hands on his hands on his chest. Pat-a-pat-pat.

“I didn’t think you were,” I said. After that walk for ice cream, dating had turned out be him showing up at 10 pm and leaving at 6 in the morning. My roommate had hassled him into taking me out to dinner, but that made me feel worse. Like it was quid pro quo. Like being paid.

Pat-a-pat-pat. “Well, I don’t want to see anyone else. I’m happy.” He smiled up at me.

He’d told me he had to work long hours. He and his partner had just started a computer company. It wasn’t that he didn’t want to take me out–he really didn’t have the time. That’s what he’d said.

“Okay,” I said, now from my perch, wishing I could stretch my legs but too anxious to move. “But that’s not what I meant.” He’d not introduced me to any of his friends or family. Though I hadn’t told him, I was sure he didn’t want to be seen with me. My one high school date echoed in my head–I want someone who will impress my friends.

Pat-a-pat-pat. He looked like someone who’d forgotten why he’d walked into a room. Pat. “Oh,” he said. His hands were still. “You want to date other people.”

“Yeah,” I said. “I do.” I felt guilty and annoyed. I also felt pleased I’d been able to surprise him.

Little did I know I was dumping him to date the tactophobe. Is that irony? I’ve never been that good with irony. I know that when I rid myself of the boyfriend who didn’t want to be with me in public, I was thrilled. Optimistic. I had a date with a good-looking guy who was going to take me to an expensive restaurant…and not be attracted to me whatsoever.

Maybe it’s just bad luck. Or bad choices.

I read a lot about irony, but I never think–this will be an ironic thing to do to my characters. I turn things around on them. I give them what they want with a twist. I give them things to regret, to screw up, and to wish they could give back. They realize that all along they’ve been going in the wrong direction, traveling the story with a stranger, and reaching for the wrong thing.

If I were looking for an example of irony, what book would you tell me to read?

13 thoughts on “Kisses and Irony

  1. I forgot Stephen Crane’s “The Red Badge of Courage.” Young man in the Civil War becomes fearful he’ll run in battle and in fact does, whereupon he is shot in the bum , then given a medal for having been wounded.

  2. The good old “Be careful what you wish for…” I think I’ve seen that framed as a curse: “May you achieve your heart’s desire!” or some such.

    Book(s), jeez. Shelly’s recommendations, “Remains” and “Badge,” are both excellent. (Haven’t read “Lush Life” but I’ve read other things by Price and can in general second the recommendation to read him, for irony maybe but also for other virtues.) Irony is one of those terms that, for me, doesn’t represent well in advance: I see it happening when I’m reading it, but don’t have an index card in my mental catalogue enabling me to retrieve titles because I associate them with irony. If that makes sense. I’ll think about it.

    (Btw, Wikipedia’s entry on irony led me to this interesting column from 2003, in The Guardian.)

  3. I’ve always been uncomfortable with my grasp of the term ‘irony’; the concept seems subtle beyond the grasp of my wee brain. That said, I’d recommend Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse Five – just about any of his works, for that matter – and Joseph Heller’s Catch-22. The Bard also offers up Romeo and Juliet for your consideration; if its climax isn’t ironic, then is anything, ever?

    In case I haven’t said it before, thank you for building this lovely little literary oasis in the vast Saharan 3-Dub. And that’s 100% irony free.

  4. I’m like Tom. I also have had an uncomfortable grasp of the literary term… I think because so many people talk about in different ways, and I forget which are the correct ones with all the mental clutter. Gosh, don’t tell my ex English Students. I always look Irony up every time I am teaching it, just to be sure.

    And like Tom, this is SUCH a lovely little literary oasis.

    As to the aggressor vs. the tactophobe, I think that is such a common thing for people. We learn what we want by learning what we DON’T want. The pushy guy who wouldn’t show you off is dumped, and you turn to the opposite next time, afraid of doing the same thing, never realizing that the opposite might be just as bad or worse, in different ways.

    It takes a while to balance out your life, I think.

    I actually think this might be a good thing for certain characters, to careen back and forth between extremes before they learn the lessons they really need to learn. This might actually work for a couple of the characters I am writing right now.

  5. I’m in agreement with Tom, Romeo and Juliet is the epitomy of irony. I was just thinking about Romeo and Juliet today in response to another writing question..weird.

    Love the awkward moment in this piece when he realizes that she wants to see other people…I felt it. Good stuff

  6. Thanks everyone for the suggestions. I’ve read Remains of the Day, but not Lush Life. I quite liked Reality Bites (I was a Wynona fan back then).

    I’ll take a look at all the suggestions. Though I haven’t heard of it, I like the title The Post-Birthday World.

    And like Tom and rowena, I’ve always felt uncomfortable with many literary terms and try to avoid them. So much for my MA in English lit.

    As for Romeo and Juliet…the Zeffirelli version may have an unfortunate irony for me. I’ll go far with this writing thing, but not that far.

    Thanks again everyone!

  7. I know it’s silly to have been bothered by this, but I was bothered by my inability to name, off the top of my head, a book (presumably fiction) that exemplifies irony.

    So when I got home, I went to the room where most of our books are shelved. (That’s “most… shelved” meaning that by far most of our books are still in boxes, after seven years in this house. This is just the room with the most shelf space.) And I came up with three candidates (in no particular order):

    (1) Don DeLillo’s Mao II depicts a writer something like Thomas Pynchon — not stylistically, but in terms of extreme personal privacy. And he’s also like Pynchon in his fascination with contemporary and pop culture. Which leads him, despite the desire for privacy, into a quite public activity. The irony is subtle rather than heavy-handed, consisting entirely of the tension between the notions of private and public (especially for someone who plays a notable role in pop culture/literature, like the book’s protagonist).

    (2) Ian McEwan’s Atonement: More than the movie’s depiction of it, the book’s final twist was almost crushingly ironic.

    (3) Pirsig’s Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance — this is a little bit of a stretch, maybe. But not a great leap. The narrator spends an enormous amount of time and energy in his rational attempts to (a) get across country, (b) reconcile his relationship with his increasingly troubled son, and (c) uniting his past and present selves. The key word there is “rational”; the irony hits at the book’s climax, a supremely emotional moment which occurs just as those three goals converge, actually collapse, into one.

    Heh. Sometimes I think these verbose comments relieve me of the obligation to post a new blog entry of my own every day, but naaaah.

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