The official kick-off to Twins Days, a festival celebrating twin-dom, is a wiener roast held at Twinsburg High School in the aptly named town of Twinsburg, Ohio. Next to moon bounces and corn-hole boards, an out-of-place jazz trio performs to a crowd of no one. The parking lot is full; inside, it’s packed. We’re wearing identical blue denim button-downs, boat shoes, and pink shorts. Framed together in the dim glow of our Super 8 motel room mirror an hour or so earlier, we’d laughed uncomfortably: this was, after all, the first time since kindergarten we’d dressed exactly alike, when we both wore Old Navy overalls and tried to switch places, only to get caught just as lunch was being served.
Of course, this whole twin interchangeability trope has been a reliable pop culture staple since Shakespeare. From a young age, the cultural powers that be have implied that there are really only a few ways to be a twin: you can either look alike, act alike, and so essentially live your life as the same person (see: the creepy twins from The Shining, Fred and George Weasley, and those twin girls in college romps who are always fodder for fantastical threesomes that flagrantly ignore societal norms re: incest); you can look alike and have — at least on the surface — diametrically opposite personalities (see: The Parent Trap, Comedy of Errors, Romulus and Remus, and the criminally underrated last gasp of Mary-Kate and Ashley, New York Minute); or you can just be evil.
And yet, something about the endeavor has always repelled us. Those of you (Mom; and moms, in general) who assume that dressing up in the same clothes is somehow a natural thing to do, or that it feels at all right — well, you’re wrong. Dressing up in the same clothes — playing up one’s identicalness — accomplishes the opposite. Which is to say: It makes you feel like you’re someone else entirely. Or, more precisely, like no one at all. When you look in the mirror and see someone else exactly like you, and you also know that that person has the same DNA, it’s such that you really can’t even stand to look at the other one; for a moment it’s like you’re literally canceling each other out of the world. A part of you wants to disappear, is disappearing, as the pre-existing conception of your individual self departs from a reality that’s much more intent on grouping you together than allowing you to remain apart.
In Havana, Ernest Hemingway’s restless ghost lingers more palpably than in any of the other places in the world that can legitimately claim him: Paris, Madrid, Sun Valley, Key West. Havana was his principal home for more than three decades, and its physical aspect has changed very little since he left it, for the last time, in the spring of 1960.
I’ve been traveling to the city with some regularity since 1999, when I directed one of the first officially sanctioned programs for U.S. students in Cuba since the triumph of Fidel Castro’s 1959 Revolution. As an aspiring novelist, I’ve long been interested in Hemingway’s work, but I had no idea how prominently Havana figured in the author’s life — nor how prominently the author figured in the city’s defining iconography — until I began spending time there.
A few years ago, I began research for a book on the back-to-land movement — a subject I knew surprisingly little about, given that I was raised in a geodesic dome my city-born parents built at the top of a Vermont hayfield in 1971. During the course of my reading and interviewing, I was continually surprised by the echoes I found of the goals and motivations expressed by the idealists and utopians of previous eras. And, as helpful friends forwarded me articles about rooftop farms, Tiny House communities, and off-the-grid CSA (community-supported agriculture) operations run by Wesleyan philosophy majors, I also became aware of a new wave of utopian movements underway in our own time.
If it has a fault, it lies in the quality of the prose. The title The Scarlet Letter, we are told, radiates “an artsy frisson of vice”, while the Dupin tales give off a “seductive reek of depravity”. Sims, an anglophile American with a taste for gas-lit murders, need not have cranked up the adjectives. Arthur and Sherlock remains an absorbing tribute to the world’s greatest investigator and his troubled maker.