Friday, June 11, 2021

A museum to the absence of love

The Ancestry of Objects, by Tatiana Ryckman, tells the story of a woman having an affair with a married man.

We lean against the counter and leak onto the linoleum floor. We think of the stain he's made in the house, in us, and wait for the moment when he will leave and we can toy with the lonely wetness of our cunt and the house, the whole house holding us in a warm echo. We will come fondling the bruises he's left.

It's precious. It's a slim novel(la?), but dense — the sentences need unravelling, the meanings are cryptic. It feels like the kind of book academics love to admire and aspire to write. The narrator's use of the first-person plural does not draw me into her universal(?) experience; rather it alienates me — I can't decode her character readily enough to be able to relate to it. 

We know she is alone, burdened by the ideas of sin and guilt, and suicidal. 

The plot of our days takes on a beige vacancy. The house is a hair shirt, and we have grown accustomed to being unable to scratch the itch. A lifetime of summers spent punishing ourself between bedroom and kitchen and living room floor has prepared us for the special ennui, though this time we have no one to blame but ourself.

We're not sure what she does with her days (nor is she). The narrator lives in her grandparents' house. They're now dead, but the house has been preserved. She's encased in an obsolete worldview.

We could teach the ancestry of objects preserved as a museum to the absence of love, to tenderness stored more faithfully in hairpins collected in mason jars than in our lineage of fallible hearts.

[Honestly, I don't know what that means.]

It is in many ways the exact opposite of Annie Ernaux's Simple Passion, and it is a startling coincidence that I should be reading these books essentially back to back. Ernaux' s take on her affair is an examination of her own behaviour, in awe that she could be driven to such action and that she took pleasure in it. There is no joy in Ryckman's telling. Her affair is heavy, her despair permeates every breath.

Ryckman is sometimes quite graphic, if poetic. (I wonder if the narrator knew anything of love or sex before David; it seems unlikely that her character has ever loved before, yet there's a worldliness in her attitude that is out of sync with what we know of her past.)

He fastens his pants, ashamed, and kisses our mouth full of his come and, standing, pulls us to standing and holds us for a moment very tightly, the come still the loose wet muscle of an oyster in the shell of our mouth.

Many passages stood out not because they were erotic, but because they were odd. (One reviewer called the sex scenes gross. That's a step too far, but it underscores the difficulty of writing anything that hopes to embody human desire.)

The fantasy is not to have David but to be known by David. That he will leave no stone unturned in his need to see more of us more deeply, that nothing he finds could diminish his desire. That even in our darkest recesses, we are acceptable, okay. That we will be okay. That, more than searching for an answer, he will be consumed by the curiosity to ask.

But David does not ask questions. David does not peer into the cavern of our heart. There is nothing he wants to know, and so he says without saying, we are not worth knowing.

Of course, every story these days serves as a reflection of my own plotlessness. What did I want from my latest love affair? To be seen. To be known (in the biblical sense?). To be worth knowing.


We stay like this until the bitterness and sadness and loneliness and many adjectives of our affair settle into the boredom of waiting for it to pass.

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