It is my decided opinion that Max Shulman’s Love Is A Fallacy is one of the funniest and most clever short stories ever penned. And if you haven’t read it, you must – you simply have no idea what you are missing.
The tale is related to us in the first person, and revolves around a high-minded university student who introduces us to himself in these lofty terms:
Cool was I and logical. Keen, calculating, perspicacious, acute and astute – I was all of these. My brain was as powerful as a dynamo, precise as a chemist’s scales, as penetrating as a scalpel. And – think of it! – I only eighteen.
This brainy individual has a roommate by the name of Petey Bellows: dense, emotional, impressionable, and (worst of all, we are told) a faddist who is unfailingly ”swept up in every new craze that comes along”.
One afternoon, Petey showcases this abominable weakness of his, bemoaning the fact that raccoon coats are the latest fashion - and the fact that he hasn’t got one. “I’d give anything for a raccoon coat,” he declares impulsively. “Anything!”
Our narrator, initially unsympathetic, quickly realizes that he might be able benefit from his friend’s new obsession. He offers to get Petey the desired object – in exchange for the exclusive privilege of dating Polly Espy, Petey’s girlfriend. Understandably, the poor fellow objects… but only at first. Soon his lust for the coat gains the upper hand, and a bargain is struck.
Our narrator assures us that he wants Polly only for a “shrewdly calculated, entirely cerebral reason.” As a freshman in law school he would, in only a few years, be entering the practice. And of all the successful lawyers he has observed, the vast majority are married to beautiful, gracious, and intelligent women. Polly fits all of these specifications… almost.
Beautiful she was. Gracious she was. Intelligent she was not. “But I believed that under my guidance she would smarten up. At any rate, it was worth a try. It is, after all, easier to make a beautiful dumb girl smart than to make an ugly smart girl beautiful.”
Our protagonist decides that the best way to begin sharpening his new date up is to give her a course in logic. A good plan, no? What better way to help this lovely but dull-witted creature attain a satisfactory level of intelligence? What better way to get the cog wheels of her mind turning?
It’s a good plan, indeed. Unfortunately, it begins to go awry in the final act, and soon backfires completely, leading up to an enormously funny climax that had me laughing out loud.
As you can see, Shulman’s tale is nothing complex; what makes it so enjoyable is the ample amount of cleverness and wit he laces into it. In some ways, the writing style reminds me of Wodehouse, in that it fits the bizarre story and oddball characters to a tee.
Read this one. It’s short, it’s creative, and it’s tons of fun. You’ll be laughing by the time you reach the end… and you’ll also be heartily grateful for those illogical, God-given gifts called emotions.
(Read Love Is A Fallacy here.)