Will someone help this poor young woman with her virginity?
Despite being reasonably attractive and chalking up a few near misses, Julia Greenfield has reached the age of 26 without having sex. Now it’s all she can think about. “Untouched. Like a flower suffocating in its own air. Like something pickling in its own juices. Something that badly needs to be turned inside out, banged right.” Her obsession with this issue is magnified by the fact that she’s lost the focus once provided by her nearly-but-not-quite Olympic swimming career. Since she hates her job, there’s nothing to keep her in the D.C. suburb where she’s moved after college, but she can’t go home because her parents have rented out their house and gone to Costa Rica. So she ends up spending the summer with her dowager Aunt Vivienne in North Carolina. Terrifyingly, Viv turns out to be a virgin, too, and the dull small town she lives in looks like part of the problem. Nonetheless, Julia forges gamely on. A contributor to the New Yorker's “Shouts and Murmurs” humor column, Rathbone (The Patterns of Paper Monsters, 2010) reliably wrings the humor out of this situation, but more impressively, she manages to evoke its poignancy. Julia’s longing is revealed in moments like this, watching a friend with her boyfriend: “he put his hand on her chest, kind of fit his fingers above her collarbone as if it was a ridge on a rock face and he was going to climb her. I’d thought about that for a long time.” Also nuanced is the uncomfortable relationship between aunt and niece, in which both withhold more than they give.
Amusing but also smart about people and unexpectedly sweet.