She Loves Me Not: New and Selected Stories
“True Romance” is from Ron Hansen’s new collection, SHE LOVES ME NOT: NEW AND SELECTED STORIES (Scribner, 2012). Ron Hansen has published two previous story collection and his novels include DESPERADOS, MARIETTE IN ECSTASY, and ATTICUS, a finalist for the National Book Award.
Hansen said this about the origin of his story: My family used to go to a fishing camp in Minnesota, and one week it rained so much that I spent hours in the screened front porch of the office and snack shop reading romance magazines of the sort that had articles like “My Sister Slept With My Husband On Our Wedding Night!” I was just a kid and shocked by the chaos in so many love lives, but also perplexed that the contributors could report the travesties visited on them in such a flat, plainspoken way. The first-person articles were forerunners of those confessional afternoon television shows in which the victims and the perpetrators seem to think their outlandish activities were normal.
Much later, in my twenties, I was managing an office building in the Nebraska town of Columbus and was living less than a half-mile from feeding pens and a big barn where they held livestock auctions. Because of my neighborhood I got interested in the newspaper farm reports, and many of the articles were about the high number of mysterious deaths of cattle in the fields. There was no mayhem to the killings, just careful, almost surgical rendering of the bodies and removal of the inner organs. Some speculated it was the work of devil worshippers intent on a bloody Sabbath and some wondered if extraterrestrials were taking animal samples to try to understand earthly biology. The culprits were never caught and the killings were never solved.
The above ingredients contributed to a weirdly plainspoken narrative that thinks it’s talking about a love gone wrong while something far more horrific is going on, or not. The story was originally published in Esquire magazine and reprinted in Larry McMurtry’s fiction anthology about the contemporary West, Still Wild. I suspect Mr. McMurtry chose it because the farmers depicted in it are so unlike the Norman Rockwell versions that are so familiar in advertising.
Imagine someone like Jessica Simpson telling you this story.