The Semiotics of Seduction
Tonight someone apologized to me for not having yet found the time to read YOU or The Invention of Memory. Obviously, I loved it, and also, no pressure. Life is too fleeting, in general, and I assure you, everyone can still come to this party! Later, I thought about a topic I consider all the time, which is the meaning behind communication. Like, maybe the point wasn’t to express regret but to convey the opinion that The New You Project matters and is worthy of attention. And then I thought about other situations, when there is so much you want to say to someone but it’s so hard to express yourself correctly. Do you ever feel like that? I certainly do. And then I think about how so many things are too complex or difficult except for the ones that fall under the aegis of the last sentence in Samuel Beckett’s First Love: “there it is, either you love or you don’t.”
That’s my approach to books that I may publicize. I take on a handful of projects per year and don’t get paid to read (or have an assistant) so I have to be ruthlessly efficient at that stage. For this conversation, I’ll focus on novels. With some, I know from the very first sentence, e.g. Anne Landsman’s The Rowing Lesson: “I can hear the dirty blood inside you, the way that old fish, the coelacanth, spins on its head and can hear the heartbeat of its prey.” If there were a precise definition of my kind of book, that’d be it. Other novelists exert the devastating force of a natural disaster over the full course of the story, having swept me up so effortlessly and thoroughly that I never knew I was falling, i.e. Roxana Robinson in Cost, Min Jin Lee in Free Food for Millionaires, Tayari Jones in The Untelling.
The thing that captivated me about Jonathan Baumbach’s YOU or The Invention of Memory? Lots of passages (in fact, some of the pages I’ve just looked at have both top and bottom corners folded down, on opposite sides) stand out, but if I had to choose the one that made me know this was a book I wanted to talk about and recommend without question, it’s near the beginning:
“For weeks my obsession with you deformed my life. I was late for appointments or forgot them altogether, got into a pointless argument with a supervisor at work, broke off with a woman I’d been dating on and off for almost a year. Nevertheless, when anyone asked, I confidently announced that my infatuation with you was a thing of the past.”
Beckett’s right, but here is a much more human version of the missed connections that characterize relationships. How can we possibly measure what tiny fraction of our inner lives it is that we divulge to each other, and what is unexpressed, beneath the surface of interaction? And yet, the impulse we have as social creatures is to connect and seek meaning. Always. Acknowledge that fact and you’ll find yourself teetering over the abyss containing all the stories about you that you’ll never know. Because no one has told them. Perhaps they’re about love, and how it was made phantom before betraying the true scope of its existence. And how what we miss can be as captivating as what we see. Especially between men and women. Because there’s so much more to say about what isn’t said, isn’t there?
— LAUREN CERAND
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