I am aware that I might have been a little unfair when I read The Varieties of Romantic Experience, a collection of stories by Robert Cohen–I read this while waiting for The Boyfriend to get his hardware shopping done; therefore, I read it not as one should read a book, I read it as a prop that kept me company as I waited.
Cohen seems a clever enough guy, although he never made me cease being aware that I was waiting (I will not invoke Roland Barthes, I will not). He likes to exercise with form, and he twists your run-of-the-mill academe/literature scenes into witty and apalling stories–apalling because, as with most of the pieces, Cohen’s lofty “varieties” aren’t so much concerned with heartbreak and aching and loneliness, and, well, variety, as they are with foibles and slapstick plays. It’s apalling in the sense that you can’t look away because these characters seem to revel (resignedly) in their patheticness. Sigh.
The title story, for example, is in the format of an introductory lecture to a course of the same title. And within this lecture, we (students) are welcomed (rather frighteningly) into the havoc-ridden world of this sad, sad professor and his sexual escapades and all manners of failure in all matter of courtship.
You can read the title story, “The Varieties of Romantic Experience: An Introduction”, here. It’s quite amusing. Still, isn’t this a kick-ass title for a book?
I admire Cohen for his refusal to “give in” to being gracious to his characters, as though giving them a well-deserved break (even internally, within their characterization) would be coddling them. It gets tedious though, it does. After two-three stories, I wished that these people weren’t so resigned to that aforementioned patheticness, that they gave themselves some dignity, know what I mean? For god’s sake, how much undignified tragedy are we all supposed to put up with?