Ludmila Ulitskaya, "The Orlov-Sokolovs"

The rise and fall of the perfect couple.

(from The New Yorker, April 18, 2005)

It’s the ’60s in Russia, and a hot ex-gymnast hooks up with a hot ex-boxer. They are alike in so many ways, from their family situations to their worldviews to their goals. And both are — in their own minds and in that of the parabolic narrator who dissects them with warm, scientific language — defined more by their actions than their thoughts. From the beginning, they are set aside from the real world, fated to be together, but it’s only romantic in one sense.
I wish to insert for you, some pretty passages. Here’s the first couple lines:

At first glance, they didn’t make much of an impression.
Both seemed rather small, they weren’t particularly striking,
and they were so taken with each other that they had no
time for the rest of the world. A second glance, however,
told you that they were kingpins, and after that it was
impossible to recall the impression they had made at first.

Here’s another I like:

They didn’t know how lucky they were. They had everything
they could wish for—powerful athletic bodies, quick
reactions, rigorous brains, and the self-confidence of
winners who have never suffered so much as a scratch.
They had retired from their sports just as they were
approaching their limits, one step ahead of inevitable defeat.

Read the whole thing

This story took me places and made me care about characters who are always a little chilly, but always kinda sorta endearing. Why’d their love fall apart, besides the fact that that happens all the time? Who can say? Who? Maybe it’s for the best. Happens all the time. Maybe Jack and Brenda met up, got married, and settled down in the country. Maybe Diane and Eddie share a loft together in the city. None forgot their first loves, or the songs that were sung about them, but life doesn’t stay lyrical for long. Ooh yeah life goes on. Bottle of red bottle of white. They’ll need a crane.

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