Short Saturday: Good-Bye to “Hello”

You know I love to talk about getting the details right in your novel, so when I read A. A. Gill’s lovely essay in Vanity Fair, I knew I had to share. “We are coming to the end of the age of the telephone call,” he says, “and that may be a good thing or a bad thing, but it is a thing.”

It is indeed. It’s history in the making, and knowing when to use these details is what makes your fiction ring true. Think about it!

For more than a century, the telephone was the punctuation of life. The stage device that concerns love, or its passing, that was a Sunday filial duty, a confirmation of old friendships. A telephone call had gravitas, social importance; calls were memorable. You called because you had something to say and that became the stuff of drama. The phone was the great plot device of theater—it took the role that had been vacated by Shakespeare’s missive-bearing messengers or the Greek chorus channeling fate and the gods—and even film and music: the fatal call; the kidnapper’s call; the president’s hotline; Glenn Miller’s Pennsylvania 6–5000, the most famous phone number in all music; Dial “M” for murder; Blondie in the phone booth, the one across the hall.

In Richard Linklater’s 1995 film, Before Sunrise, the two lovers, played by Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy, sit in a booth in a café sharing an imaginary phone conversation of charmed humor with a great deal of 18-karat sentiment and love. … I just watched the film again and I realized that no one is ever again going to make that pinkie-to-the-mouth thumb-to-the-ear sign across the room at me for “I’ll call you.” What are we going to do? Jab our fingers at each other?*

Many of you know I’ve been reading and appreciating essays of late, and Gill—who appears regularly in Vanity Fair—is a master of the form. This one offers nostalgia, humor, and commentary on the art of human communication. You’ll enjoy it.

* Be sure to follow the link to check out the (ahem) “updated” image from the movie His Girl Friday. :)


Tweet: Knowing when to use these details is what makes your fiction ring true.
Tweet: “Hello?” With the advent of texting, the telephone assumes a new role.

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