I think when I read the title, I read it as “You’re Ugly Too.” It’s subtle, but the difference is what the “too” refers to. In my reading, the implication is comparing the addressee to something ugly, whereas it actually indicates the condition of being ugly. I think this makes a difference. Here is another story, like with Amy Hempel, where jokes are a tool for the plot. “You’re ugly, too” is the punchline to a cruel joke that sums up Zoë’s outlook on life and compares it to the punchline of the man she is talking to, a man dressed as a woman telling a misogynist joke.
Zoë is a lot more similar to Sittenfeld’s character than Hempel’s though. They are both distraught women, but I think in this story it is clearer. She jokes about suicide and talks about her own worthlessness and the need to provide a reason to go on living.
Everything she says is avoidance. She calls it sarcasm, but it is probably something else. Maybe passive-aggression.
There is this pull of normality like when her parents approve of her for purchasing a house. They send her decorating magazines. “And when Zoë looked at the photographs, at the bold and beautiful living rooms, she was filled with longing. Ideas and ideas of longing.” She wants to have a family and to be loved and everything that you are supposed to want. She feels “the strain and ambition of always having been close but not quite.”
Why does she find the joke about being ugly so funny? Why does she compare beauty to truth? Where beauty has a hundred definitions but truth doesn’t have any.
She doesn’t want to be like everyone else. But what else is there? Beauty is cheap and it’s what men expect of women, but truth is like Zoë, something vague and indeterminate.
The story is written with all of these tangents and foldings with bits of the plot interwoven where they don’t belong. Is this a signature style of Moore’s or a design of the story? Either way it suits this story and its protagonist.
I read another story recently in researching for this class in which a woman reads an article claiming that women would actually prefer not to have careers. What was that story? Anyway, this story also talks about similar articles and how they are insulting. Maybe the story would have had a happier ending if the solution wasn’t to find a man and have a family. Men aren’t the answer.
There’s definitely something going on with so much page space taken to describe the ridiculous state of the man wearing a nude woman costume. There is some kind of gender thing going on here, a kind of redressing of wrongs, but not quite. This story isn’t just about feminist empowerment.
I’m asking myself, now, what do I get out of this story as a man? Zoë means life, which seems to mean that it has a more universal view. This is how life feels not just to women but in general. But what is this? “I’m going out of my mind,” Zoë says. “I feel like I’m dying,” she says. “You’re not dying,” her sister tells her, “you’re just annoyed.”
The condition of being ugly is like a state of mind that is heaped on top of Zoë in addition to everything else. It stands for that thing that will push her over the edge like how she wants to push the man over the edge. “Just kidding,” she says, but like the rest of the jokes in this story, it’s serious.
Favorite lines: “…Zoë’s insides came on the screen in all their gray and ribbony hollowness. They were marbled in the finest gradations of black and white, like stone in an old church or a picture of the moon.”
Questions for the class: Is the man dressed in a woman’s costume a portrayal of men’s view of women, or Moore’s view of men’s view, or something else?
Next week’s story is “The Excursion” by Joy Williams, which is not on the internet. You can find it in her book, Taking Care.