...or be eaten | Dora Nesakani | The Hypocrite Reader

Dora Nesakani

...or be eaten


Henri Rousseau (le Douanier), The Repast of the Lion, ca. 1907

“Now she loves him and looks ahead with quiet confidence—like a cow.”

Cat Pierro's “eat the person” makes a grave omission. At his most heroic, Pierro’s lover struggles to be true to his love (I mean his emotion, not his girlfriend) and he can have some degree of success provided that the girlfriend consents by “endorsing” his “experiments.” Even if I were charmed by Pierro’s sugary sweet examples of this success, such as “squeezing each other so hard you might meld together”—and I’m not: I find them nauseating, stagnant, and dripping with death, far too kitschy to represent a continual return to the newness of desire as Pierro seems to hope—I could never build a concept of romance around them, because there’s only one subject in this story. Pierro’s portrayal of romance loses the other person.

Megan Boyle’s short story, “Clams,” reveals what Pierro’s portrayal misses. Not all lovers have the pleasure of asking Pierro’s “very confusing” question, “What do I want from the object I want?” This dilemma is the privilege of an autonomous subject; “Clams” is about what the rest of us face.

“Okay,” she says. “I feel really shitty right now. I feel like a piece of shit.”

It’s the story of a failure of humanity. Or to be more specific, it’s the story of a “piece of shit” who has the misfortune of meeting another. The first is a girl who wonders what everyone else’s opinion is all the time, well in advance of figuring out her own. The other piece of shit is exactly the kind of boy the first piece of shit would be attracted to, an uncannily direct boy whose tactless honesty continually evokes her own shame for not knowing where the world ends and she begins. In the beginning of the story she’s drunk enough to persuade him to dance and in her right mind enough to notice that kissing him makes her feel “like she has swallowed a small, energetic frog.” But after flying back home (1.5 days after meeting him) and getting into the habit of sending daily cross-country texts and emails, she completely loses her bearings:

Anne has small superstitions which she uses to dispel anxieties. For instance, if she can make it to the fourth stain on the carpet by the time the elevator door closes, that means Nate has thought positively about her today, and there is a future where they know each other. It becomes a one-sided competition when a negative consequence is imagined: if she cannot touch two different kinds of tile with her feet by the time the toilet flushes, that means she said something crucially ‘wrong’ in an email, and Nate will never contact her again. She doesn’t keep track of which side is winning.

There remains no vestige within her of the remotest possibility of determining what she wants from the object she wants—the poor girl is much too thoroughly caught up in determining whether it wants her. She notices that her feelings for it seem “logically unjustifiable,” but this information is not particularly relevant to her course of life. When they finally reunite and talk it is clear that she has sacrificed any personhood she may once have had in this asshole's name. When she can't even manage to make eye contact, he says,

“It seems like you really like me.”

Anne feels exposed and vulnerable and desperately wants to convey the opposite, but knows that Nate will feel alienated if she is any way but honest. She wants to run into her closet and scream the word “confidence.”

“I like you, I mean, sure, I. Don’t you like me?”

“Yes, I like you.”


Nate looks at Anne and moves his eyebrows together.

“It seems like it really matters what I think of you.”

“Well. I think I worry about what everyone thinks of me. I think it matters what a lot of people think about me. It matters what you think about me, yeah.”

Nate exhales and looks in the opposite direction. Anne thinks he has looked in the opposite direction so he can roll his eyes at her without her knowing. She thinks of every word for “god” and “shit” she knows.

Of course she can’t be direct with him the way he wants—that would entail confessing that, at that moment, he is the beginning and end of her speech. This boy has become the bearer of honesty and truth, thereby standing as someone she wants to be like and someone with the right to judge her. As such he is both her greatest hope and her greatest shame. That is why her attachment escalated while he was far enough away to let her escape her immediate surroundings by inconsequentially hoping for him. That’s why she saw in him the objective gaze that could determine the reality of her being, which she was unable or unwilling to do for herself. Now I’d like to say that if women are inclined to be socially defined, so much the worse for autonomy and self-realization. But the trouble with handing someone else the right to interpret your reality is that there’s a fair chance he might do it brutally.

After they have sex that night, it is completely dark in Anne’s apartment. Nate rolls over and doesn’t say anything.

“What, what are you thinking right now,” Anne says.

“I was thinking... I don’t have feelings for you, I don’t feel emotionally attached to you, I just had sex with you.”

Nate, alas, has good qualities too, among them the attentiveness with which he hunts down his own thoughts and stances, and the noblemindedness of his honesty, which he calls “the only thing that will lead to significant experiences.” And yet somehow we end with a blatant failure of ethics. It’s tempting to try to dismiss it as something that can only happen to small, pathetic people. Or as the kind of thing that occurs so frequently, it couldn’t possibly deserve attention. But we have to recognize that something actually really shitty happened here—and that an ardent commitment to following one’s own desires to their most fulfilling ends, a commitment that I think Nate and Cat Pierro share, does not automatically transform romance into something that’s all fun and games. In fact, it fosters negligence of the needs, vulnerabilities, and pains of the other. “Clams” does an immense service, I think, by exposing these pains in their nakedness and refusing to let us ignore them.

Anne drives for a long time, intermittently lighting cigarettes. She wants to have an interesting conversation with Nate. She considers several topics and decides that attempting conversation would show defeat in some way. She is strong. She does not need to talk. She wants Nate to know that she is having fascinating private thoughts that he could know if he asked her a question, any question. She directs the thought “ask a question ask a question ask a question” out of the right side of her head. It is too quiet. She needs to say something. Her throat tries to say something before her brain can think of something to say. She chokes a little, and swallows.

“I'm really tired,” she says.

In contrast to this trauma Pierro’s romantic experiments actually look appealing. Anne needs someone to hug her—impossibly tightly, possibly forever.