The concept for this article – reviewing a book based on one random sentence – is borrowed from an article printed in the literary magazine The Believer.
“A chill swept over Aeneas; his limbs went weak; he moaned in terror and stretched his hands toward heaven” (I.91-2)
Hundreds of years before The Catcher in the Rye and The Perks of Being a Wallflower, Virgil calmed the emotional spazzings of confused and angsty teenagers with the classic – rather, the original – coming-of-age story: The Aeneid.
We meet our protagonist, Aeneas, a pimply and cynical recluse, behind the counter at an artsy, independent video store, where he spends his time perfecting his embittered sneer.
On one fateful day, a young, vibrant, and exciting Dido waltzes through the door and after perusing the Hitchcock section, approaches the counter with a copy of Notorious. Their eyes meet. Dido passes the DVD to Aeneas and says, tenderly, “I heard it’s a delightful love story.”
Aeneas looks away muttering, “Ha, noob.” Too fearful to look in those inviting eyes. But he mutters a second time: “You know, they’re showing this as a double feature with North by Northwest down the street. You know, if you, like, knew anything about cinema or art or meaning, you’d see it in the 35mm print.”
“Take me there, Aeneas. Show me.”
Dido grabs Aeneas by the arm. This is his first female contact since his mother slapped him for calling Tom Cruise a “celebutard.” Aeneas feels a sudden surge of something below his belt. It is a feeling he has never felt before, and he doesn’t understand it.
“Dido, I’m so confused. I really hate the world for f-ing with me like this. I mean, my mom is, like, yelling at me all the time about…ugghh…This is just like in Truffaut’s Les quatre cent—“
“Aeneas, show me art and I’ll show you meaning.”
With this classic line, Dido initiates Aeneas into sexual and spiritual manhood in the back of a dilapidated movie house. “A chill swept over Aeneas,” Virgil writes, “His limbs went weak; he moaned in terror and stretched his hands toward heaven.”
I can’t imagine such a moving story in any meter but Virgil’s dactylic hexameter; it captures the beating of Aeneas’ heart – and the story’s. Virgil gets the adolescent dialogue to a t. Each chapter is as enjoyable as the next; the story’s style evolves as Aeneas’ face clears up, revealing the prickly chin fuzz of a growing pubescent in love.