Monday, April 17, 2006

The Weight of Love (#29)

For much of its first third I feared being crushed by The Weight of Love . The lovers' dialogue was too pat and too The Sun Also Rises for my taste. The sex scenes were empty and vapid. I felt almost as though John Herman were writing a literary novel with Harlequin pretentions, or perhaps vice-versa, and yet something made me continue.

I'm mostly glad I did. The story centers on David Smith, a wealthy and handsome guy who simply glides through life, always casually successful. He marries an intense and beautiful girl immediately after school and they have four children and he builds a wine business with his best friend as partner. Gradually, and inexplicably, David begins taking on lovers; the first, Anne, is a married woman from old money far wealthier than David. Their affair is not entirely successful, for they know not what they seek, but they emjoy the sex. One night while having sex with Anne in public, David sees for the first time Helene, and his affair with this strange comtesse makes up much of the book.

Where Herman regained my waning attention was in shifting his POV to Helene's for a chunk of the novel. I'd grown accustomed to David's deceits as a married man having affairs, but Helene's deceptions were more unusual and more interesting than his, and completely unexpected. After this affair ends in potboiler tragedy, the novel takes a strange philosophical turn which is not entirely successful, but is at least interesting. I'm willing to forgive Herman his structural sins in an ambitious first novel. Overall The Weight of Love is a failure, but so is the leaning tower of Piza.

What drew me to this book? A blurb on the back by John Hawkes, whose novels along the same lines are immeasurably superior to this one, but I can imagine Hawkes thinking--"he almost gets it." Those restless in love are aching to fill a void in the Self; they project this void and imagine somebody else can fulfill their desire for completion, but the ego is leading them astray. Herman rather clumsily introduces a Wise Old Man (PhD in English) who out of the blue attempts to explain this to David (a la the wretched Matrix II 'architect' sequence) instead of allowing The Weight of Love its potential subtleties--but a worthy effort. Perhaps I'll read another of his at some point.

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