Stella was from a trailer park or a small town in the South. She seems to be on record as Katie Roiphe’s first betrayed friend. The betrayal was over a boy, naturally. This was when Stella and Katie were both students at Harvard. Stella was brilliant. But you have to believe that Katie was more brilliant, even though she doesn’t say so.
While I listed Stella’s background first, in Roiphe’s essay, this comes second. First comes a description of Stella. When I put the text down and try to recall Roiphe’s description of her friend, the first thing remember is that Stella is haggard. Haggard and young, a vivid combination. Next I remember that Katie has to struggle with her mind to summon up Stella.
Did it really happen? Did it really happen as Katie remembers it? Did Stella really look like that? Would it have been a different story if Stella were telling it? Or maybe no story at all? I wonder about these things because there’s a tentativeness written into Roiphe’s essay that makes you wonder along with her.
Stella is an outsider on campus. She’s so outside, she’s in, considered ultra-cool. She’s always writing, you never know what. It’s great that Katie says Stella’s friends have exotic names like Byron and Ulysses. Ulysses? Perhaps Katie is making that up.
I don’t know what Harvard’s like but Katie makes it sound very conventional…or filled with conventional students. Maybe most student bodies are that way. Katie describes her classmates as future bankers and lawyers, editors and mortgage holders. I liked the “mortgage holders” touch. Is Stella to have none of these things? Not even a mortgage? You remember the trailer park reference.
So I think it’s fair to say that there’s a bit of class warfare in the background of what happens between Katie and her friend Stella. Maybe Stella’s perceived “coolness” at Harvard is a backhanded way of saying she’s not of the same social background as most of the other students.
Katie seems to say Stella’s native air is vulnerability. She says flat-out that Stella is “doomed”. Stella’s even worse than doomed; she’s overweight. I have to say that the comments are getting loaded…because Katie is going to steal Stella’s boyfriend. Did I say they were friends? Yes, I did above. I just double-checked.
The Boy: wickedly arched eyebrows that gave him an appearance of one the unquiet Greek gods. He’s effeminate and has a flowing manner of movement that gives me the impression that he is pouring himself over Harvard Yard rather than walking. The recollections in Roiphe’s essay, which I am in turn trying to recollect, are so much of a dreamscape that you wonder if the boy was beautiful at all. He wears fake gas station attendant shirts. Green eyes.
It’s wonderful that Katie says that Stella and the boy act like brother and sister on campus but are sleeping together occasionally. After all these years is Katie still trying to justify herself? “But the fact is that attractions are contagious.” Is that true? “The fact is”…really? Katie is saying that she wanted the boy because Stella had him.
Of the act itself Katie remembers almost nothing except that the boy was gentle. Earlier Roiphe said that his identity didn’t matter. That’s why I don’t have his name to give you. But somehow describing someone whose name you don’t know makes him more vivid not less. I remember his green duffel bag…again a green…when he visits Katie at her parents’ house in NY. Every concrete detail becomes luminous when you don’t know what lies at its center. Roiphe is a wizard. I wish this were fiction. That’s meant as a compliment.
The boy disappears from this story. Stella does a fade out from the story. What you’re left with is Roiphe, greatly gifted in the art of literature, wondering what shadowed and dark thing she has done. Roiphe says it’s as if, in recollection, she’s taken the boy away from Stella all over again.
‘Beautiful Boy, Warm Night’ will be found in Katie Roiphe’s new collection of essays, In Praise of Messy Lives, now available from Random House.