‘Virtue’ by Hermione Hobby: An Excerpt

[ Return to the review of “Virtue.” ]

This was eleven years ago. By which I mean about a thousand, because then I had absolutely zero idea that we were in earlier times. My pitiful twenty-third birthday and the technical year that followed—that colour-saturated, brightly lit time of the two of them, Paula and Jason, my twin movie stars who for a moment were really no less than my life—it seems Now something has happened on closed film stock. It just so happens, I suppose, that people who were once more real than you in life eventually end up feeling like stock photo models in a collection of well-crafted shots imprinted on your impressive brain.

That November, though, I came into town with a few friends, or at least no one with whom I wanted to eat a turkey or a birthday cake. After Dartmouth, Ivy’s second-least influential, I was anxious enough to delay adulthood as to spend one final school year at Oxford, where my voice was replaced by the round vowels of moneyed English youth—the same The youth who ribbed me, looked at me, and even fetished me for being a bloody yankee. In my first months in Manhattan, I was often mistaken for an English expat. With strangers, I usually went along with it, murmuring the “London” lie with a distinct smile when a cashier or barista asked where I was from. In truth, my hometown was Broomfield, Colorado, a new cluster of prefabricated-looking housing developments that sat on flat, lifeless land in neither Denver nor Boulder areas with nothing but the middle of it. If I could offer you a defining image of my teenage years, it would look like this: I’m lying on my bed with the flat screen glaring down and the little Morrissey living in my head singing:” And when you want to live, how do you start?”

When the Burnt Oxford boys heard that I was from Colorado, some would enthusiastically mention their trips to Aspen or Vail, or the less-informed Grand Canyon of the Colorado River, and I would smile vaguely and change the subject. Because I knew it would embarrass them to learn that I was poor enough to never tie my feet to my skis and even manage to take a road trip to Arizona. I was the only child, a former fat kid, the son of a dental nurse named Kimberly, who ran an Etsy side hustle to make wedding-cake toppers customized from modeling clay. Thus our windows were populated by small pairs of round-faced figures with tiny button eyes, and our tiny house emitted the smoke baked in by them, which made me think of the Holocaust. But it was forced.

[ Return to the review of “Virtue.” ]

My mother’s life was full of disappointments, chief among them being my father’s passing a few weeks after my pregnancy. That is, nineteen years ago I also decided to leave him at Broomfield, relinquishing any future responsibility for his misery. He named me Luke. The day I reached Oxford, I became Luca.

Twenty three is basically too small for anything. There was a boy in Oxford who probably loved me a little, or a little with me. (He once left a pile of printed poems under my dorm room door—Cavafi, O’Hara, Miguel Hernandez.) His father was old friends with an editor in New York City, and hence, shameful passivity. With, I let the poor kid edit my cover letter—and by Edit I mean rewrite—and before I knew it, I was given a nine-month internship I didn’t deserve much in a fancy American literary magazine, an August quarter dating from 1923 that published fiction by famous authors There were reviews of important books, and interviews with literary figures. Notable were its covers that were available as framed prints. I never read. I was a fake, in other words, even though it turned out I had a lot of company.

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