The “Modern Love” column in the Sunday New York Times is a moral sewer. It is a place where people who otherwise have nothing to write about are encouraged to turn their most private business (or, just as often, other people’s most private business) into a cheap first-person diversion.
, though, sinks lower than the usual selling out of an ex or airing of secret family tensions. It starts off like any other one in the Stella Getting Her Groove Back subgenre, the middle-aged writer lady telling about how she found hot sex with a younger man (a
in “Modern Love”): writer Leah Hanes is checking out “mostly male twentysomethings from Brooklyn” at an Obama event. Hanes had been depressed, she writes. And then—
It was all too much; I felt I’d lost everything. The shock of my only child’s sudden death 19 months earlier at age 6 had worn off, the distractions I’d used to keep the full horror at bay finally gone. And while the losses that followed — my 17-year marriage, our “dream house,” my job, several friends — were comparatively minor, collectively it was devastating. Our two cats must have agreed, as they both died, too.
Some things can be turned into framing boilerplate. The death of one’s child is not one of those things. Hanes deserves absolution for this; one thing I have learned since becoming a parent is that the very idea of losing a child is unimaginably horrifying. It is the worst thing that can happen, and it is unfair to judge someone else for writing about it one way or another.
The editor, on the other hand—the editor who gets a writer to bury her child in a subordinate clause, who treats it as a piece of stage business to be gotten out of the way en route to a story of “rolling around half-naked on his building’s roof,” of feeling like “the lioness returning victorious from the hunt”—the editor is a monster.