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Eric J. Matluck
- Publié sur Amazon.com
I haven't got the words to describe what this book did to me. I wept and bled over its 343 increasingly magnificent pages only to be left in a state of such disorientation that I'm not sure I can write coherently (and certainly not objectively) about it. Yet I'm determined to explain some things, so here goes.
This story is not, I think, so much about two boys' (and, eventually, two men's) search for love as it is about one boy's (Bobby's) search for love and one boy's (Jonathan's) search for how to love. The two are brought together, more by instinct than fate, on their first day of junior high school. Bobby, the less excitable if less conventionally "disciplined" of the two, brings with him a tragic past: he had recently lost his beloved brother to a freak accident, and his mother, a few years later, to suicide. Jonathan is the only child of loving but repressed parents; each, therefore, has something the other craves. At an early point in their friendship, Jonathan, acting rashly, almost gets killed in an accident that brings home to Bobby the loss of his brother. I can think of no more beautiful passage in recent literature than the one that describes Bobby's reaction while helping his friend home, swearing at him in a rage (notably Bobby's only outburst in the book) while holding Jonathan to him tighter and tighter. Thus does Bobby establish Jonathan, in his mind, as his surrogate brother, which allows him to fall in love with his friend without (at this point) having to admit to his sexuality.
As time passes the two begin to inhabit each other's skin (both figuratively and literally), and when Jonathan finally leaves for college in New York, Bobby moves in with Jonathan's parents. In New York, Jonathan meets his "half-lovers" Clare, with whom he ends up living, and a bartender named Erich. He is committed to Clare emotionally but not sexually and to Erich sexually but not emotionally. Then Bobby moves in with them and, after a brief idyll, Bobby starts sleeping with Clare, at which point Jonathan feels pushed out ("triangulated"). Feeling no emotional connection to Erich, and now seemingly alienated from his "true loves," Jonathan turns to the seeming sanctuary of his family, but even there he cannot manage to connect. In the most beautiful and perfect line in the book, Jonathan reflects, "For a moment I could imagine what it would be like to be a ghost-to walk forever through a silence deeper than silence, to apprehend but never quite reach the lights of home."
Rather than self-absorbed, these characters are self-aware, but just to a point. The tragedy is not that they constantly put stumbling blocks in their own paths, but that they know enough to realize what they're doing, yet not enough to realize how to stop.
When another tragedy brings Jonathan, Bobby, and Clare back together, it seems that, with time, they finally will all learn to love each other and start "a new kind of family." Even the less cynical among us could accurately predict that they don't, but the last 85 pages of the book, in which allegiances among the three shift moment by moment, are among the novel's finest, a winnowing out process through which some relationships are finally broken and others cemented, but always with the feel of unerring rightness.
Unfairly, almost any description of this book is bound to make it seem full of contrivance and improbable coincidence. In fact, it is the author's genius to set up a background of absolute inevitability in the characters' lives, in which every action is linked to every other, and to contrast this with the inability of the characters to see those links and make those connections, within their lives, with each other, and, ultimately, with themselves. So even the reintroduction, toward the end, of Jonathan's old lover Erich, who is now dying of AIDS, is not a melodramatic ploy but an essential plot component whereby Clare comes to see her true role in the lives of the men around her, the reader is left in no doubt about Bobby's sometimes equivocal-seeming sexual identity (the nighttime encounter between Bobby and Erich is both surprising and utterly in keeping with Bobby's character), and brings to the fore Jonathan's sense of pervasive guilt (among other things, his guilt over still not loving Erich even though the latter is dying), which leads, ultimately, to Jonathan's epiphany in the final chapter: an ending both radiant and resplendent that, in hands less "cunning" than Michael Cunningham's, might have seemed like a deus-ex-machina but here caps the story of one man's quest to feel.
Obviously, this book will not affect everyone the way it did me. A few years before he died at the age of 91, Somerset Maugham was asked by a critic why, having poured his entire life into Of Human Bondage, he was never able to write another book of equal worth, to which Maugham replied, "Because I had only one life." This book made me feel as though someone had been observing my one life for the past 43 years and turned it into a novel. But since it was someone else who wrote it, there will be others who will read it, weep and bleed over it, and come away from it appreciating their own lives in ways they never thought possible. You don't have to be gay to appreciate this very great book, but I would think it helps. Pride is stamped all over its pages.