Sunday, September 22, 2019

Who wants to fall? So much better to climb into love.

There's a review I read over a year ago about a book I'd never heard of that struck a chord. It had taken months from the time I'd dipped in a tentative toe to being fully immersed in online dating and recognizing its erotic potential. According to the LA Review of Books, Allegra Huston's Say My Name was about
a woman's emotional and physical reawakening after half a lifetime trapped within both a stale marriage and the limits of her own perception about who she is and what she ought to be.
So, relatable.

It's been retitled as A Stolen Summer; I don't understand the reason for the change — neither title is particularly fitting or evocative.

I read it in one sitting. Part of me wants to justify my guilty feeling of indulgence in this book. On some level I am dismissive of this novel — both the story and the manner of its telling. It's a love affair between a 48-year-old woman and the 29-year-old son of an old friend.

Here, Huston describes How To Write a Sex Scene, and demonstrates some smarts and humour about it. (There's also an excerpt.)
Sex is one of the great motivating factors of life on earth. Yet in the past, women writers couldn't describe it frankly without being considered "loose." (Some didn't mind, but they lived in Paris.) Men didn't dare write good sex out of fear that they might out themselves as being not very good at it. And thus the mark of quality literature became, not great sex scenes, but scenes of morose men drinking in bars.
The truth is: I wholly enjoyed the evening I spent with this book. Beyond a doubt it was compelling, and despite some quibbles, it's given me a great deal to think about. While I don't find it exactly enlightening, it's given me an outlook on how some women my age and some younger men approach their sexuality, and their life.

A few things strike me as unrealistic in this novel.

Eve is my age (a year younger actually) with a 24-year-old son. No one in my college-educated crowd got married and had children that young. People tend to "settle down" at an age slightly older than in generations past. So this scenario makes the book feel a little outdated, and a little incongruous with the otherwise instant-download and text-infused modern setting.

Micajah is a truly exceptional young man. Not so many men are attuned to the workings of the female body at the age of 30; it takes a great deal of enlightenment, and experience and confidence. Most don't even express an interest in learning till years later, when they somehow begin to see outside themselves. Younger men often turn to older women in the hopes of learning something.
"It's hard to explain."

"Try. I'm good at this kind of thing."

"What kind of thing?"

"Understanding baffling concepts that make no sense to anybody but the person who has them." He He places his finger in the crook of her elbow. "I already know you don't cheat."

"Actually, you know the complete opposite," she says slowly, feeling that she no longer knows herself.

"No. What you did — what we did — was absolutely true. That was you."

He's right. Looking back from the perspective of that rooftop, it's her life with Larry that was, in larger and larger proportion, a lie.
Even though this novel sets out out to turn common elements of the romance novel upside down, to do so it has to acknowledge them. So, while Eve is aware that this romance has no future, she has to consciously work at being OK with that. This is a broad generalization, I know, but it seems women think about love and romance in terms of forever instead of in the moment, they think about the future of things instead of the now. Huston and her protagonist are relatively smart about this, but it makes me sad that love isn't easier for more women. Maybe I'm just lucky to live among a more enlightened group of friends, and not among suburban Jersey housewives. We know we don't need a man to be fulfilled.
"We could stop and get takeout," he says.

This is the step that will bring her into the sunlight — as long as she's strong enough not to care how big the patch of sunlight is or how long it will last. She will be agreeing to premeditated sex with a man she barely knows, someone shockingly unsuitable who has already shredded her self-control — yet who makes her feel, wen she is with him, like herself, in a way she cannot recall ever feeling before.

She remembers her mother hanging out five children's worth of laundry on the clothesline in their backyard, the tired corners of her mouth weighing down her smile. What would she say? Eve is suddenly overcome by a longing that her mother could have taken a lover, seized even an hour purely for herself.

"Okay." She smiles. "Chinese."

Fate has given her a gift. In honor of her sacrificed, sacrificing mother, she will allow Micajah to break her heart.
(Even if it's short-lived, why does it have to be heartbreak?)

Is this an erotic novel? I don't think so. Yet it's suffused with something. It's never cheesy, it's mature, and still sexy.

One thing that drew me to this novel is that it features a musical instrument, a badly damaged, intricately carved viol d'amore. I would've loved to hear more about its history and restoration, but that would've been a very different novel.

Coincidentally, this week I read about a book of poems about walking and the poet talked about how love is about falling, it's a different motion and momentum. So this line from A Stolen Summer really stuck me:
Who wants to fall? So much better to climb into love.

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