There is not as much sweet safety in marriage as one hopes


Dear Readers,

We’re delighted to present this week’s Recommended Reading, “The Pilgrim Hawk.” Guest edited by Michael Cunningham, it’s a recently rediscovered, republished masterpiece, in the vein of The Great Gatsby:

“Except for that one deformed bit of one foot, Lucy was a perfect example of her species, Falco peregrinus, pilgrim hawk. Her body was as long as her mistress’s arm; the wing feathers in repose a little too long, slung across her back like a folded tent. Her back was an indefinable hue of iron; only a slight patine of the ruddiness of youth still shone on it. Her luxurious breast was white, with little tabs or tassels of chestnut. Out of tasseled pantaloons her legs came down straight to the perch with no apparent flesh on them, enameled a greenish yellow.

But her chief beauty was that of expression. It was like a little flame; it caught and compelled your attention like that, although it did not flicker and there was nothing bright about it nor any warmth in it. It is a look that men sometimes have; men of great energy, whose appetite or vocation has kept them absorbed every instant all their lives. They may be good men but they are often mistaken for evil men, and vice versa. In Lucy’s case it appeared chiefly in her eyes, not black but funereally brown, and extravagantly large, set deep in her flattened head.”

Editor’s Note — Michael Cunningham:

One summer day several years ago, I got a call from Edwin Frank, editor of The New York Review of Books Classics, asking if I’d like to write the introduction to a new edition of Glenway Wescott’s The Pilgrim Hawk. Edwin told me that The Pilgrim Hawk was surprisingly good. Possibly even great.

I told him I’d never heard of it.

He assured me that hardly anyone had, which was a crime. Which was why he wanted me to write the introduction. I confess that I thought, but didn’t say, If it’s that good, why doesn’t anyone know about it? Which is, of course, precisely how the sentence of obscurity, once imposed upon a book, is hard to get reversed.

As is the case with all major novels, the famous and the obscure, the writing itself matters as much as do the depiction of people and places and events. Wescott’s human characters will, of course, produce considerable episodes and developments. A small avalanche of them.

That’s enough from me. The Pilgrim Hawk is a small miracle of a book. It’s profound, it’s beautifully written, and it keeps surprising the reader, right up to its last line.

Just read it. Okay?

About Recommended Reading:

Great authors inspire us. But what about the stories that inspire them? Recommended Reading, a magazine by Electric Literature, publishes one story a week, each chosen by today’s best authors or editors.


— Elissa Goldstein was born and raised in Melbourne. She has an MFA in Creative Writing from Brooklyn College and is the Online Editor of Electric Literature. You can find her here.

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