This is a wrenching book -- which is a high compliment. It's an unsparing examination of a doomed love affair in post-WWII New York, from the perspective of a 40-year old man who is looking back on what he has lost, not with sentimentality, but with all the difficult emotions we have difficulty admitting to ourselves. Anger, bitterness, resentment, self-blame color his recollections.
The relationship he recalls is fraught with complications. He was seeing a beautiful woman who longed for commitment and stability -- stability both in terms of her status in the relationship, but also in terms of material possessions. Her lover eschews conventional commitments, questioning her priorities as he intellectualizes his own. A wealthy man enters the woman's life, and proposes to pay her $1,000 in return for a night with her. These flawed characters are all lost in some way, none able to fulfill the desires and needs of the other. Hayes represents their conflicts and raw emotions with prose that moves from sheer beauty to breathtaking anger. His is an economical style that took my breath away at times. I can't remember the last time that I read a novel that conveyed fury with such intensity.
Throughout the novel, Hayes' prose kept drawing me in. He explores the anguish we hide behind a placid mask:
"It was becoming painful to think. There seemed to be inside me whole areas I had to be careful of. I could feel my mind, like a paw, wince away from certain sharp recollections. I contained, evidently, a number of wounded ideas.
"So, with the only face I had, I continued to walk uptown, imitating a man who is out for some air or a little exercise before bed."
He finds words to convey some of the despair of being lost in nothingness:
"Are you all right? I asked.
"She was all right.
"Then what was it?
"It was nothing; it was just the ocean.
"Because it's sad?
"It wasn't sad, she said; no, that wasn't it. Sadness was the wrong word. It was just the ocean, and the darkness, the great darkness, how it went on and on. It was the being lost in it for a little while."
He portrays the savage inner-monologues that help us to maintain a frozen state of righteous anger when battling with someone we love and lose:
"So there would be the three of us, locked charmingly together, each in his necessary place. He would play the role of the solid husband, with whom she felt safe; she would be the wife, ornamental, lovely, who served the coffee to his friends; and I would occupy the special niche she was suggesting. It seemed to her so satisfactory a way out. I should really have no objections. It was so difficult for a woman to find everything she wanted neatly packaged into one man. I was quite sure that she even thought of it as one of her rights."
Throughout, Hayes explores a kind of existential angst that imbued post-war Western popular culture, a sense that we are all alone, that we cannot find meaningful connection with others.
Hayes first published [b:In Love|17262516|In Love|Alfred Hayes|http://d.gr-assets.com/books/1364853449s/17262516.jpg|1278516] in 1953, and is now being reissued by NYRB Classics. I have had some of my most memorable reading experiences of the past few years when reading books from that series, and I am happy to include [b:In Love|17262516|In Love|Alfred Hayes|http://d.gr-assets.com/books/1364853449s/17262516.jpg|1278516] among those books.
I received an ARC of this book from Netgalley in return for an honest review.