OK, I’ve abstained for awhile, actually exercising such self control that I haven’t even mentioned the essay in any other posts, but I’m coming out with it. My personal favorite essay from The Best American Essays 2011 is Victor LaValle’s “Long Distance.”
Mind you, I’m not saying I thought it was the best essay – though neither am I saying it wasn’t – but rather that it’s the essay that’s stuck with me personally the longest after reading it. It was the first piece I’ve read by LaValle, and it made me want to read everything else he’s written. Here are some of the things it did for me:
- Had a great opening line: “The most loving relationship of my early twenties cost me ninety-nine cents a minute.”
- Had a wonderfully self-deprecating sense of humor about undoubtedly LaValle’s greatest shame, being morbidly obese for much of his twenties, e.g.: “…fat people are perverts. By which I mean to say, loneliness perverts you.”
- Never fully resolves itself or makes us think LaValle’s problems disappeared when he lost more than a hundred pounds. The ending I found particularly complex and moving, when he looks at his newly skinny hand and realizes “this hand hadn’t replaced the old one; instead it was like this hand had grown around the fatter one somehow. Both were there, but only one could be seen.”
- I even loved his Contributor’s Notes, where he mentions a central problem to writing about past trauma (sorry, had to get that word in somewhere) with candor: “But, of course, I never reach the true present in the essay. Maybe I still don’t know how to talk about a life with greater happiness. Or I’m still trying to break free from the romance of misery. That has destroyed better writers than me.”
I know that many of the essays in BAE 2011 are perhaps weightier (so to speak) than this one, but none have moved me so insistently.
What did everyone else think? Am I alone here?