Friday, October 23, 2009

Two or Three Things I Know about Him

Raymond and Hannah by Stephen Marche (Doubleday Canada, 2005) 207 pages

I know Stephen a little from having worked with him at a, to-be-unnamed and many ways unmentionable, legal publisher many years ago. I think he was fresh out of university and immediately stood out amongst the corporate drones.

Can I let you in on a little secret? The beautiful people do not work at legal publishers. Stephen was young, enthusiastic, passionate about literature and just generally very lovely to work with. Only professional jealousy kept me from reading this book earlier. He's talented, smart, cultured. and ... I can feel my self esteem as a writer shrinking as I write this.

The story is broken up into alternating sections or paragraphs from the p.o.v.'s of two young lovers: Raymond, a Ph.D. candidate at the University of Toronto, meets Hannah, a young girl in search of her Jewish identity, at a party. They sleep together, they soon fall in love. There is food. There is sex (lots of it). There is melancholy. Three of my fave things to read about.

They are together for only a week. But Hannah is on the cusp of a potentially life altering nine month trip to Jerusalem to discover her "inner Jew" so to speak. Their brief time together is intensely romantic.

The lush and sensuous language is wonderful - the interaction between the lovers intense capturing the first flush of passion and attraction. Marche makes Toronto sexy and fun and the connection between these two somewhat rootless young people exciting. Jerusalem, through his eyes, is vibrant, rich in imagery and drama, and written with a true sympathy for a culture which many of us would find strange and often puzzling here in the West.

I fell in love with Toronto a little bit again when I read the book. Having lived here for more than thirty years, some days the city seems like a seedy old boyfriend whose presence gets on my nerves, but here, Toronto is fun and a cool place to be, a cool place to fall in love.

Raymond and Hannah's p.o.v.'s are indicated through charming notes in the margins which work in most instances. During their separation they communicate by e-mail. E-mail format in literature, despite the fact that this communication between the lovers makes the most sense in the 21st century (they are hardly going to whip out a quill and paper are they?), is not my favourite form of exposition however.

When Raymond falls into a liaison with the equally exotic Lara, a highschool student, in Hannah's absence, one senses a familiar pattern of male flight from responsibility and commitment. That he confesses all to Hannah before his trip to Jerusalem to join her confirms my theory about the male animal. Raymond is trying to sabotage what could be the most important emotional relationship in his life with this dalliance. It's not loneliness alone - why confide in Hannah if not to place a wedge between them that can't be removed and forestall a deeper relationship?

Raymond still does go to Israel where Hannah feels a mixture of lust, shame about Raymond's goyishness and love for the hapless Raymond who arrives abashed and penitent. But the course of true love was never smooth ... and this is definitely true love.

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