Two Great Books for Valentine’s Day…Sort Of

by Patrick on February 13, 2009

Tomorrow is Valentine’s Day.  Oh, you hadn’t heard?  You must not have watched the videos. For those who are looking for something good to read, I recommend two titles both dealing with relationships in completely unique ways.  Don’t worry, they aren’t your typical mushy, wishy-washy romances.  Rather, they do what great books should — they tell compelling stories in challenging yet entertaining ways.

Erotomania by Francis Levy

If you’ve visited the On the Edge page of this blog, then you know by now that I’m a fan of Two Dollar Radio.  This erotic novel puts the erotic in erotic.  I made the mistake of starting it on the train, and let me tell you, it’s not the kind of book you want to be reading in public.  And that’s a compliment.  Within three pages, I was squirming in my seat on the Metro, a little bit flushed and possibly sweating.  Levy writes about sex the way it ought to be written about – as the nasty, incredible, dirty, wonderful, tender, and dangerous thing that it is.  This absurd novel crackles with electricity, both sexual and intellectual.  James has been having an affair with Monica.  No, actually, that isn’t correct.  Or rather, it is merely correct.  James has become obsessed with Monica’s vagina.  That obsession blossoms into something profound in this loopy, absurd, disturbingly sexy novel.

you-cover1YOU, or The Invention of Memory by Jonathan Baumbach

(If you’re not familiar with the interesting backstory of how this book made its way to me, I highly recommend clicking through to The New You Project, a blog that chronicles the efforts of publicist Lauren Cerand to bring some attention to this novel.)

First, a disclaimer:  I don’t typically enjoy experimental fiction.   That’s not to say that haven’t read any of it.  Without getting into a tedious discussion of how one defines “experimental,” I’ll say that my taste in fiction is probably not what you’d call adventurous.  And I loved this book.  YOU is the story of JB, the narrator and “author” of this book, which is actually a lengthy letter to “You,” who is not really you, but actually a woman with whom he had an on-and-off affair for years.  Throughout the book, Baumbach plays with the reader’s expectations, starting and stopping like a Fugazi song, reimagining scenes, retelling episodes, shifting perspectives and even narrators.  The result is a fascinating, memorable, and moving examination of a relationship – its beginnings murky with the mud of memory, and its endings clouded in fantasy and delusion.

From the first page, YOU recalls Italo Calvino’s If on a Winter’s Night a Traveller, as the narrator directly addresses not only the reader but the experience of reading this particular book.  But where Calvino’s interest lies in dissecting and reconstructing the experience of reading itself, Baumbach has a real story in mind, and he wastes little time in getting into it.  As the plot unfolds, we learn that JB and “You” met in an elevator on their way into a party celebrating the release of new novel by a writer whom neither of them can remember after the fact…or maybe they didn’t.  Maybe they met when “You’s” sister took out an ad in the New York Review of Books personal section with the intention of setting her sister up with a man…or maybe it was the other way around (It often seems to be the other way around in this book).

As I read YOU, I found myself thinking of a French New Wave film.  I can’t put my finger on which one, exactly.  Eric Rohmer is mentioned several times in the book, but that doesn’t feel quite right.  Something more like a Godard film would be a more apt comparison — the absurdity tossed into the quotidian, the humor (often biting) butting up against a hip, urbane sexuality.  As a reader, it was an interesting experience to never know quite was coming next and yet still be desperate to find out.

If you’re interested in picking up either of these books, you can order both of them from the Vroman’s Website by clicking the titles above.  We currently have Erotomania in stock, and we will have YOU onhand shortly, as well.