(Reviewed by JD Jung)
“The sense of well-being which had flooded through me as I sat at the table and thought of not having now the burden of another’s life on me had almost entirely vanished, and the humiliation of the choice she had made, and the quickness with which she had discarded me, had deepened. There were the beginnings of an unfamiliar anguish inside me now.”
I hate to spoil your Valentine’s Day with a dose of reality; and I guess I could have picked a romantic story more appropriate for this occasion, but that’s just not me. This 1953 novella and lost gem, In Love, is just too good to overlook. And of course, I’m such a fan of New York Review Books Classics.
This story takes place in New York City, probably post WWII 1940’s. Our narrator sits in a bar recalling a casual sexual relationship he had with a neighbor. He wasn’t willing to offer her much and she didn’t demand it. However, being a young divorced mother she needed something more secure.
While at a bar with her lover and a group of friends, a wealthy man asked her to dance and subsequently offered her one thousand dollars for a single night. (Remember, those were the 1940’s and I can’t image how much a grand was worth then!) Anyway, our narrator didn’t care…or thought he didn’t.
Aching for what you really didn’t want but realize that you can’t have, or maybe what you can have, but need to change yourself first, but refuse to, and/or lamenting over lost opportunities is what In Love is all about. Confused? You shouldn’t be. Feelings aren’t rational, and this is what makes this story contemporary and relatable.
What isn’t contemporary is what draws the reader in: the dark and gritty writing style of author Alfred Hayes (19112 – 1985). He conveys the conflicted feelings of rage, jealousy sadness, and yes, entitlement with such explosive imagery, while keeping a certain matter-of-fact tone.
Now are you really confused? Well, you’ll just have to read this very human novel, In Love. And yes, it’s perfect for Valentine’s Day.
(Note: as with all New York Review Classics you’ll get an illuminating introduction about the author, and this one doesn’t contain any spoilers. Of course, I always warn you if it does.)