Although there are great novelists in every era, the 1950’s had more than its fair share. Steinbeck, Kerouac, Bradbury, and the egocentric Mailer (who I’ll forever remember as the man who can’t say fuck) had all recently published novels that would become highlights of their careers – East of Eden, On the Road, Fahrenheit 451, and The Naked and the Dead respectively. It’s not surprising, though thoroughly disappointing, that Alfred Hayes is often forgotten as one the great novelists of our time. In Love is an interesting, brilliant piece of literature that serves as an ode to heartbreak and a tribute to the blues.
In what was perhaps a precursor to Indecent Proposal, Alfred Hayes wrote his masterpiece – and it is a masterpiece – with In Love. The short novel chronicles the breakdown of sometimes torrid, oft tepid relationship between a man and a woman. The woman, still a little heartbroken following her divorce and loss of her child, is looking for something permanent, solid, not just a fleeting affection. The man, while he enjoys her company well enough, is too busy. Then one night, while she is out dancing, she meets a wealthy, if lonely businessman who is willing to pay $1000 dollars for a night with her. It’s the threat of losing her that reaffirms his ardent affection, but it’s too late. The novel, though melancholy, beautifully examines the intensity of desire, lust, love, jealousy, and, eventually, loss.
There are no heroes or heroines among the unnamed characters. The 40-year-old jilted lover is plagued by his failure and inability to commit, his young lover is described as beautiful but paranoid, and the wealthy businessman is awkward and sympathetic – none of these individuals inspire overwhelming affection yet you can’t help but experience the 40-year-old’s crushing grief. The style of prose is unique, meandering, and evocative. In highlighting the passages I found lovely, upon finishing the novel, I realized I had highlighted nearly half the book.
Here I am, the man in the hotel bar said to the pretty girl, almost forty, with a small reputation, some money in the bank, a convenient address, a telephone number easily available, this look on my face you think peculiar to me, my hand here on the table really enough, all of me real enough if one doesn’t look too closely.
It’s the latter part of the last sentence that I find haunting and all too relatable – “all of me real enough if one doesn’t look too closely”. The novel, though slim in size, is full of both the banality and the devastation that follow the end of an affair. It’s an unflinching, vivid, and honest piece of literature examining the failure to turn a meaningful relationship into love (despite love having been there all along). If we are not in love, who do we belong to?
We are sitting here drinking these daiquiris and the footsteps are all quieted by the thick pleasant rugs and the afternoon dies, you and I are expected, and that there’s somebody there, quite important, waiting for us? But the truth is, isn’t it, that all our purposefulness is slightly bogus, we haven’t any appointment at all, there isn’t a place we’re really expected or hoped for, and that nobody’s really waiting, nobody at all, and perhaps there never was…but there was in us something that permitted us to believe…that the intensity with which we set out must compel such a destination to exist.
Alfred Hayes, largely forgotten (assuming he was remembered in the first place – I suspect not), was a talented journalist, novelist, and screenwriter. He was nominated for two Academy Awards, including one for his work on Roberto Rossellini’s Paisan. He television screenwriting credits include scripts for Alfred Hitchcock Presents, Nero Wolfe, and The Twilight Zone. He wrote numerous other novels and while the consensus says that In Love was his ‘great work’, he is probably best known for his poem ‘Joe Hill’, which was later set to music. It’s a shame that Hayes shared an era with so many authors whose work overshadowed his, although he also kept his private life private in a way that Kerouac and Mailer never did. Would Hayes be remembered if he slept with the notorious women of his day or spent his nights drinking with the literary crowd? I don’t know. I do know it’s a shame that In Love doesn’t get more recognition as the modern masterpiece it is. Read it, revel in the beautiful melancholy, and celebrate its re-release on July 23, 2013 as a New York Book Review Classic*. 5/5.
Though I sincerely doubt the two patrons at the bar were drinking a Strawberry Daiquiri with Nectarine Basil Ice Cubes, that is what I’m recommending (I have mentioned my affinity for basil a time or two).
*I received a review copy of this upcoming release in exchange for my honest opinion.