Title: In Love (This is a re-issue of the novel, which was first published in 1953.)
Author: Alfred Hayes. Hayes wrote screenplays, novels and poetry from the 40’s to the 70’s.
Genre: Literary fiction
Readers: Retiree Sulyn, publishing professional Gigi, professor Michal, stay-at-home mom Megan V. and communications director Barbara.
Summary: New York in the 1950s. A man on a barstool is telling a story about a woman he met in a bar, early married and soon divorced, her child farmed out to her parents, good-looking, if a little past her prime. They’d gone out, they’d grown close, but as far as he was concerned it didn’t add up to much. He was a busy man. Then one day, out dancing, she runs into a rich awkward lovelorn businessman. He’ll pay for her to be his, pay her a lot. And now the narrator discovers that he is as much in love with her as she is with him, perhaps more, though it will take him a while to realize just how utterly lost he is.
Our Take: Like a lot of literary fiction, there were people who loved it passionately and those who didn’t connect to it. Take a look at what they have to say to get an idea of where you may fit in.
Alfred Hayes’s novella, In Love, has been named a modern classic. What gives it that distinction is Hayes’s rare style of writing which allows for creative, colorful characterizations. Lively descriptions of time (the era of prohibition) and place contribute to the reader’s understanding of the characters as well.
Details unfold of a relationship between a man and woman in a tumultuous love affair. Their distorted definitions of love and its boundaries are at once creative, original and familiar.
As the first chapter opens, the protagonist, a middle-aged man, is sitting in a bar room telling the story of his affair to a younger woman. There he displays a multi-faceted range of emotions. What the reader doesn’t know is why the man allows the affair to take the course it did. But was it really up to him?
Nothing in this story is predictable. The woman involved in the affair brought to mind images of Truman Capote’s Holly Golightly, from his book, Breakfast at Tiffany’s, but later reveals herself as a risk taking, alluring siren–with baggage and motives. In Love is a uniquely crafted visual novel.
I would call this aggressively fine; the problem is that I was not in the mood for it. It has the stifling feel of mid-century malaise writing: very little happens and it is discussed at great navel-gazing depth through unnecessarily long sentences held together by colons. The characters are basically archetypes and just drifting through life, oppressed by the American Dream. The narrator can’t act on his own behalf and, indeed, knows himself so little that he spends most of the second half talking about whether he even loved the girl he was dating. Eventually, they both become fairly despicable people.
Early on, it occurred to me that I should just be reading The Bell Jar and then I started to get annoyed at the suspicion that if this were written by a woman, the editor would have said “Ugh! How hysterical women are! No way is this literature. I don’t want it.” There is even a friend who says the actual sentence “I must say there’s nothing duller than listening for two hours on end to somebody else’s love troubles”, and my heart went out to the girl in the bar listening to the narrator recount his story ad nauseum. I hoped she got a stiff drink out of it. Until she committed treason against all womanhood by actually LEAVING WITH HIM!!! WHY?!?!?!? Nothing, not one single word he has uttered, has made him even remotely appealing! Find someone else! As a result, I came away just thinking the whole book was just self-glorification on the part of the author.
Basically, I didn’t like it but I can see other people–who are not slightly sick of this kind of writing–liking it.
I’m not even sure what to say about In Love. I tried to get into this book more times than I can count and just could not. The stream of consciousness style of writing and I just did not mesh. I found myself nodding off and my mind wandering while trying to get into the story. By the time things should have gotten interesting, I just didn’t care about the narrator or his love to try and reread to get closer to them as characters. There was some beautiful language and beautiful descriptions but that was not enough to keep my attention or my interest. I’m not even sure how to grade this because it’s not a bad book at all; it just isn’t a book for me.
In Love by Alfred Hayes is set in the 1950s, told from the perspective of a man in a bar, recounting the story of his lost love to a woman seated next to him. The narrative is set in the 1950s and is also written during the same time period which speaks volumes for Haye’s writing style; something that took me a few chapters to get used to. Hayes does an incredible job of transporting the reader to the hazy setting of New York City, in which his love affair with the un-named femme is dissected in detail.
The narrator gives a pervasive feeling of cynicism for not only love, but life in general. It seems that he has a hard time committing to any feeling or relationship, which ultimately aids in the demise of the love affair. He describes the pleasure of love as “the nicest amusement in all the amusement park.” While the narrator seems to perceive everything through a thick shroud of disillusionment, the evolution of his love story is reminiscent of love as experienced by many, without the resonant Indecent Proposal story line. At the end of a relationship one often asks the same questions our narrator does: “how (would it) have been different had I done this or that.” In Love is a beautifully written, captivating story, perfect for book club settings.
Normally I can lose myself in a book on an airplane; I look forward to some uninterrupted reading time. In Love proved an exception to the rule. I found I had to force myself through this one. It’s not as though I’m unfamiliar with the time period or the references — 1950s New York City — and I do watch a lot of Turner Classic Movies. But the characters in this novel just didn’t speak to me.
According to the introduction to this edition, In Love was first published in 1953. I agree with the introduction’s writer that it does have an Edward Hopper feel to it — lone middle-age guy sitting at an empty bar, spilling his story to a lonely gal. But I found myself unsympathetic — he can’t pull the trigger with a young woman who is needy emotionally and financially and chooses accordingly — think Indecent Proposal — and still finds she want both. My own experiences tell me it’s hard to sit the fence.
She has a daughter — Barbara! — from her first marriage whom she’s left with her parents while she looks for her white picket fence. Tough way to find that stability, but then she’s young (18 when first married; 22 when divorced) and has some growing up to do of her own. When she rejects the narrator, why does she anticipate he will punish her and why does he think: “I think that would have been just: to beat her up, a little”? Part of that growing up or part of the times? Maybe a bit of both. She may know what she wants but it’s not what she thinks she needs.
Get ready for paragraphs that go on for days, surprising in my mind for a former newspaper reporter and a screenwriter. I wanted breaks to breathe, to absorb the story. I also wanted a drink and a cigarette, thinking that might help as well.
Maybe I might have enjoyed In Love better at home as a black-and-white film on Turner Classic Movies. Some movies wear better over time than books.