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WHAT IS THIS THING CALLED LOVE? by Gene Wilder

WHAT IS THIS THING CALLED LOVE?

Stories

By Gene Wilder

Pub Date: March 1st, 2010
ISBN: 978-0-312-59890-7
Publisher: St. Martin's

Another slim volume that should amuse the actor’s fans.

There is no answer to the question posed by the title of this collection of stories by Wilder (The Woman Who Wouldn’t, 2008, etc.). In fact, many of the narrators seem more confused in the aftermath of their romantic misadventures than they had been in the beginning. But, as one of the pair of young lovers suggests in “In Love for the First Time,” “If you always knew the ‘why’ about such things, the meaning of life wouldn’t be such a mystery.” In this particular story, an exceedingly shy boy and the more assertive object of his desire, herself a virgin, eventually make love—somehow. And that’s pretty much it. In three of the 12 stories, the protagonist is the hapless Buddy Silberman (to whom Wilder dedicates the collection as his cousin, “who really wanted love, but settled only for sex”), bumbling his way through various seductions and receiving a big surprise with the punch-line revelation of “The Hollywood Producer.” Many of these stories play out like elaborate jokes, often with a bittersweet tinge to the humor, or extended vignettes. Within them, love typically seems like a byproduct of biological urges, a matter of chance rather than destiny. “The Kiss” concerns two young actors at the Milwaukee Community Theater, with the 17-year-old girl asking her 24-year-old co-star “why they couldn’t go to his house and touch each other and see each other’s naked bodies.” When he says that she’s too young, she switches her affection to someone younger and runs off with him. True love prevails, or at least what passes for it in these stories.

Wilder writes in his prelude that he hopes these stories “might give you a little pleasure and a laugh.” They should.