What Is This Thing Called Love? by Gene Wilder

Gene Wilder at a book signing for My French Whore
Image via Wikipedia

My review of Gene Wilder’s last book, The Woman Who Wouldn’t, had this assertion:

I don’t think Wilder is seeking to be a great writer or hone his craft in some academic or literary way. Rather, I think he enjoys telling stories of a certain kind. He isn’t doing this to get rich or famous but because he enjoys it.

His latest release, What Is This Thing Called Love?, reflects this I think. And my reaction to this collection of stories was similar to my reaction to his novels.

The stories touch on the idiosyncrasies of love; falling in love, longing for love, seeking love, etc.. Wilder often paints men as desperate for love and companionship but on occasion too dumb and selfish to see it for what it is. But he is also a romantic and understands that love breaks through and strikes when we often least expect it.

The stories are not particularly deep or literary but they have a lightness and a tragicomic sense that comes from Wilder and makes them worth reading.

From my perspective Kirkus Reviews best captured the collection’s oddly entertaining style:

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 alaugh.” They should.

Kevin Holtsberry
I work in communications and public affairs. I try to squeeze in as much reading as I can while still spending time with my wife and two kids (and cheering on the Pittsburgh Steelers and Michigan Wolverines during football season - oh, and watching golf too).

2 Comments

  1. My work is about people who loved very quietly, and would have been embarrassed even to use the word, so I like the phrase “what passes for it” in this review.

    We could use more questioning along those lines, I think.

  2. My work is about people who loved very quietly, and would have been embarrassed even to use the word, so I like the phrase “what passes for it” in this review.

    We could use more questioning along those lines, I think.

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