As election results poured in Tuesday night, I saw people reaching out to ask for support and solidarity or to offer it. I saw those of us who will probably not be targeted pledge to stand with those who are already being assaulted and insulted and menaced and beaten. I saw people preparing for something that as a kid who grew up fearfully devouring Jewish holocaust literature I’ve been anxiously imagining all my life: what it might look like to provide a secret annex—and beyond that one history of oppression, what it might look like to be part of an underground railroad, a White Rose resistance movement, an anti-Apartheid movement.
I’ve written about hope, and this is a tough time to hope. I’ve also written about survival, and we survive by coming together. This election was a referendum on coming together and coming apart, but I know that most of us in the face of earthquakes, hurricanes, bombing raids do come together, and I thought it might be useful to offer up a little of that from my book on the subject, A Paradise Built in Hell.
It turns out that the story about Victorians wrapping little trousers around their indecent piano legs is apocryphal or, at the very least, a weak joke. Yet the idea endures that our great-grandparents muffled their bodies in heavy fabric and silence. It’s an idea we picked up from the early 20th century and then, because it was flattering to imagine ourselves as so different from our poor buttoned-up, self-loathing ancestors, we refused to let it go.
In What Love Is: And What It Could Be, Carrie Jenkins argues that it’s about time we give up on these “pathetic” and “desperate” solutions and, instead, think more expansively and inclusively about relationships. Arguing that lifelong monogamy isn’t natural and doesn’t work for everyone, Jenkins challenges the “normatively prescribed” but elusive romantic ideal that funnels lovers into the “cereal-box nuclear family.”
Probing her past and her family’s secrets, Lappin runs up against her adoptive father’s reticence and the suspicions of some members of her biological father’s family. Punctuating her story is the silence of the dead: the voices that died with her ancestors, each with their own secrets, wrapped up in Russian, Armenian, English and Yiddish; all guests at a feast where only Lappin can understand everybody.