Monday, August 5, 2019

Literary Wives #40

Ties by Domenico Starnone 
translated by Jhumpa Lahiri
Welcome to the 40th "wifely" book review for the Literary Wives online discussion group!

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Naomi of Consumed by Ink

I will mention that I highly recommend reading Jhumpa Lahiri's introduction to this book. I loved the background she gave to her familiarity with this book and her knowledge of the Italian language. She gives a general outline of the book's organization as she views it and also some insight to her word choices as she translated. 

I was fascinated by this cover image. And now that I've read the book, I believe I "get it." Since their father has been out of their life for several years, it is important to Anna (the younger child and only daughter) to determine whether it was their father who taught her brother (the elder child and only son) Sandro to tie his shoelaces, since he does it in a different way than Anna and her mother, Vanda. As Sandro tells Anna,
This story about the laces involves all of us. Dad came back for Mom, for me, for you.
And the three of us wanted him to come back. Get it? (135)
Honestly, I'm not sure I get it! I guess Sandro's point is that Aldo didn't return to his family due to any one of them, but for all three of them. Though we learn he never truly returned in heart, only in physical presence and providing financial support. Once Vanda believed that Aldo had finally returned to his family to stay, the wedding band that she had once thrown across the room onto the floor during an argument with Aldo, who was  estranged at the time, reappeared on her finger.
It meant: I feel tied to you again, what about you?
The mute question had the new imperative tone, it demanded an immediate reply, silent or blaring.
I resisted for a few days, but I saw that she was turning the ring around her finger in an increasingly anxious way. (108)
So, although Aldo had at some point in the past cut his own wedding band off his finger, as he later admitted, symbolically cutting Vanda out of his life, he now relented and had a jeweler make a gold wedding band for him, engraved with the date of their reconciliation. 
Neither of us said anything. But in spite of the ring I had a lover 
almost immediately--three months after I came back home--and I've been 
stubbornly unfaithful up until a few years ago. (108) 
They are now in their seventies. All I could think was how awful that must have been. For him. For her. And especially for their children. You think children don't know, but I'm convinced they usually do, unless you do an extremely conscientious job of pretending. 

As I learned some 10 years after my own divorce, my youngest son, who was 16 and still living  at home when I finally split from his father--my children were clueless. At least as far as my reasons for divorcing their father. I admit I can't believe they were not aware of the tension between us, but in effect, I am glad that they weren't. I knew I kept my mouth shut around them and only spoke to a couple of very close friends (as well as several different therapists!) of my unhappiness and dissatisfaction in the marriage. It took me two long-ass years to save every dime needed to file for divorce, but I was determined to pay for it myself...because, believe WAS personal!! And I wanted him to know that. I wanted out at 10 years in and lasted another 12 before I could finally end it. I do believe many marriages would end much sooner if more women were financially secure, enough to support themselves and their children. Vanda was much the same. She began working at whatever job she could find and had to move due to not being able to afford to remain in the same house during those four years Aldo lived elsewhere. That was what kept me in my marriage, even though we rarely had enough money for living expenses, I only had two years of college completed and hadn't worked outside the home in 13 years, and I had no other financial resources as backup. And there were virtually no social safety net programs for people in such situations at the time. I did manage to complete my degree and then started working. I figured it was way past time that one of us did! ;) But enough about me...back to Vanda and Aldo.

From the crisis of many years ago we have both learned that we need to hide a great deal from each other, and tell each other even less. It's worked. (108)
I admit I kinda chuckled at Aldo calling his abandonment of his wife and children a "crisis"! I guess that's what he considered it to be, but naturally Vanda felt differently about it all. I did appreciate Starnone's organization of the book. We first read Vanda's version of their relationship, then we read Aldo's version of those same years. And boy, do we ever get two different versions, just as I'm sure would be true for any such two people in a relationship. Then finally, we have the two children, Sandro and Anna, who give the reader a summary of their own feelings, about each other, and their parents, particularly with regard to their marriage. I found this last perspective from the children to be the scariest. In some respects it would seem that we just have no idea as we "parent" through the daily routine of life exactly how we are affecting our own children. And although one parent, such as Vanda did,  can represent a positive role model, the dysfunctional truth of the relationship overall is typically revealed to the children. Though they may not realize it themselves, their actions and behaviors could very well depict their own emotional trauma as they enter and continue through adulthood. That seemed to be the case for Sandro and Anna. I did have to chuckle at the way each of them could easily "analyze" the other. It is always most difficult to objectively analyze our own behaviors, isn't it? 

We are here to answer 
the Literary Wives question: 

What does this book say about wives or about the experience of being a wife?

Yet once again we have a heterosexual female who is committed to her relationship with a spouse and the biological father of her children, but he cannot stand the monotony and practical routines of childcare, working for a living, and having sex with the same woman for many many years. So, of course, he has a "crisis" and decides he must abandon his wife and children for a younger single woman. Sounds familiar, doesn't it? 

I sometimes wonder if that ol' biological "instinct" for males to go plant their seed to increase the population of the tribe as much as possible is still active and well... It certainly seems to be the case. 

Vanda writes a series of letters to Aldo during his four-year absence and it is her story we get first. I love how her first letter begins:
In case it's slipped your mind, Dear Sir, let me remind you: I am your wife. 
I know that this once pleased you and that now, suddenly, it chafes. (23)
I love the visualization prompted by the word "chafe"! That is such an ugly and uncomfortable feeling! I could so readily relate to Vanda's feeling that this had happened so suddenly. That was exactly how I felt... It is an unreal feeling, just as if you were plopped down in the middle of a strange planet with no knowledge of the beings, their culture, etc. For me, it was totally disorienting. I felt much the same as Vanda. Although my ex-husband didn't take off and abandon us, it felt much as if he had. (I think even he was smart enough to realize I would probably hunt him down and shoot him if he did! :))

I did chuckle as I read the remainder of her first letter to Aldo:
I bet she was the one who kissed you first. I know you're incapable of making the first move, 
either they reel you in or you don't budge. (24)
Exactly! So many men are truly 'gutless wonders', in my experience. One thing my ex did say several times: "Women are the ones who truly get things done. If not for them, men would be lost." (Yes, he did have some sense on occasion...) Though this is certainly not ALWAYS true, it seems to hold up much more often than not. And her use of the plural pronoun they seemed to be quite telling, indicating to me that she was well aware this woman was not the first with whom Aldo had had sex with during their marriage of 12 years. Even if you are uncertain, as I was, I immediately told myself it didn't matter--I knew of ONE and ONE was enough! 

Do you want to know what I think?
I think you have yet to realize what you've done to me. It's as if you've stuck your hand down my throat and pulled, pulled, pulled to the point of ripping my heart out, don't you get it? (24)
As I read this, I said aloud, "No, he doesn't. He doesn't 'get it' and he doesn't care...about you or your children, or even that he doesn't 'get it'!"

Aldo explained that his "parents' miserable marriage ruined [his] childhood." I did cringe at Vanda's memory of his description of abuse: said that your father had wrapped barbed wire around your mother, and that every time 
you saw a sharp clump of iron pierce her flesh you suffered. (25)
I admit I cringed upon reading this description. And hell yes! Of course that child would suffer, and probably be psychologically disturbed to some degree for life! But these are your wife and children, to whom you should feel a lifelong devotion and commitment! It is your opportunity to be a partner and parent in a very different way than your father evidently did. To set a good example and be a positive role model for your own children--the exact opposite of what you evidently experienced! 

Vanda continues to describe his machinations in stating how "imprisoned" they were by their marriage and parenting roles, and finally...
It dawned on me somewhat late that you were trying to be helpful. 
You wanted to make me realize that, by destroying the life we shared, you were in fact 
freeing me and the children, and that we should be grateful for your generosity. 
Oh, thank you, how kind of you. 
And you were offended because I threw you out of the house? (25)
What a magnanimous gesture! Right?!? So his rationale was that he would get out of the marriage/parenting role before he could turn into the physical (and I'm sure mental/emotional) abuser his father had been. You know...if he left, it would keep them safe from him... All that sounds good, doesn't it?!? Not to me, but maybe someone would believe such bullshit. 

I could definitely understand Vanda's fears that Aldo will turn their children and others against her...
You want to isolate me, to cut me out completely. want to avoid 
every attempt to reexamine our relationship. This is driving me crazy. 
I, unlike you, need to know; it's crucial that you tell me, point by point, why you've left. 
If you still consider me a human being and not an animal to ward off with a stick, 
you owe me an explanation, and it had better be a decent one. (29)
I admit that some of these same thoughts went through my head, too. I wondered if he would try to turn my own children and/or others against me. But those were unnecessary worries. Everyone in my ex's own family except his mother and aunt felt it was way past time for me to have ended the marriage. Only two people were at all sympathetic toward him, even in his own family. That is sad... Though as far as I know, it didn't bother him at all, and he cut off virtually all ties he had with his family in the aftermath of the divorce. 

So exactly what does all this say about Vanda's role as a a wife? For me, the main message was that a "wife" is always stuck. She seems to be the one who is committed to the marriage as well as raising the children. She is long-suffering. However, for Vanda it is also a case of setting expectations for the future from that point forward. As Aldo notes, there is a "new imperative tone" Vanda uses with him. She is the one running the show and he is to acquiesce and do as told. I remember that same feeling once I decided to allow my ex to stay, as long as he got a job and gave me money to pay the bills such as rent, utilities, etc. That lasted two years until I could pay for a divorce. By that time he wasn't spending many nights at home anyway. Sometimes you just have to move on.

Vanda states that she married for love and then was committed to the relationship and particularly to parenting their children once they were born. She expressed incredulity that this wasn't the same for Aldo. I remember feeling the exact same thing. It was my assumption that my husband's commitment to our marriage and especially our children was the same as mine. I now realize the folly of that assumption, but just as Vanda did, I also assumed he would be there...he would remain faithful. But that was not the way it played out. I was also shell-shocked... How could anyone not carry through with their commitment? To their marriage. To their children. As I told my then-husband, for me, I disregarded the idea of "love" as a sense of commitment took over throughout the years. As Vanda states:
I believed real feelings never changed, especially in marriage. (26)
Yep! You and me both, Vanda! And we both got caught up in a situation proving our assumptions to be dead wrong. I realized that at 10 years into my marriage I had never once considered whether I was "happy" or not. How sad is that?!? My sense of commitment to marriage and parenting overrode any other considerations. Not so for others, I soon discovered...

I had always felt that "divorce" was not in my vocabulary. I had to disabuse myself of that silly notion! I worked very hard for another 10 years to try to salvage my marriage, but finally decided I could never again be happy in that relationship, especially after discovering his unfaithfulness. I am evidently not the forgiving kind when it comes to this type of situation and the resulting feelings of betrayal and abandonment. Vanda was a much more pragmatic person than I, in the end. I eventually realized I had done everything I could do and it would not work...and then I began to consider my own feelings and prioritize around them. Lesson learned! 

Vanda and Aldo were a good example of how feelings and people can change over time. And each of you must decide how you are going to handle those changes. 
Will they drive you apart? Will you work together to resolve conflict and/or
make the relationship positive for each of you once again? 
Or will you, as Aldo did, simply leave and refuse to 'work' on the relationship?
And was it a good thing for them to reunite?
It's not as if their children didn't recognize and suffer in their own ways 
from their parents' dysfunctional relationship.
That is quite obvious from their discussion and actions at the end of the book. 

If you've not read this book, I would recommend it.
It is rather short, yet dense, in my opinion.
There is much revealed in those mere 150 pages!

I am rarely ever forgiving of a spouse who is 'unfaithful'.
How about you? 

What's next for Literary Wives?
On October 7th we will discuss
Happenstance by Carol Shields

This is a very uniquely formatted book.
Two books in one, really. 
One book reads front to back and the other back to front.
This should prove interesting!

Happy reading!

Sunday, August 4, 2019

Dewey's Summer Reverse Readathon UPDATE

This Dewey 24-Hour Reverse Readathon worked well with the 
Bookworm Bitches' August 2019 Read-a-Thon 
which is basically a weekend-long challenge to read as much as possible...
each and every weekend in August! 

I did end up finishing A Closed and Common Orbit by Becky Chambers, 
the second installment in her Wayfarer series.
Although this book only follows two of the Wayfarer characters from 
the first book, The Long Way to a Small and Angry Planet
it was just as wonderful!
Becky Chambers is one of my absolute favorite authors!
I am so anxious to read the third in this trilogy, 
Record of a Spaceborn Few.

I read further in Ties by Domenico Starnone, 
which I actually finished reading today, Sunday, August 4. 
And I am now composing my review to be posted tomorrow morning 
for the Literary Wives online book discussion group.
This was a uniquely formatted book. Each section reveals a different 
character's interpretation of this long-term marriage. 
Definitely a realistic depiction in many ways.

Did you participate in this readathon?

If so, what did you read? Or what have you been reading lately?

Happy reading!

Tuesday, July 30, 2019

Dewey's Summer Reverse Readathon

This Dewey 24-Hour Reverse Readathon will work well with the 
Bookworm Bitches' August 2019 Read-a-Thon 
which is basically a weekend-long challenge to read as much as possible...
each and every weekend in August! 
I have found that I am even more motivated to read 
just knowing I will post my progress on Monday morning! 
(Or whenever I get to it later in the week! lol) 

Here are the books I will target for this challenge:

A Closed and Common Orbit by Becky Chambers
(If I have not had time to complete reading it by then!)
I am finding it to be a very easy read, even late at night when I'm tired. 

Ties by Domenico Starnone
for the Literary Wives online book discussion group
whose next posting is scheduled for Monday, August 5!

The Wife Between Us by Greer Hendricks and Sarah Pekkanen
for the August Popsugar Monthly Read!

The Girl Who Chased the Moon by Sarah Addison Allen
for the IRL "Borders" Book Club I facilitate!

for an IRL book club at my favorite used bookstore!
I have been wanting to read this ever since I learned she had a second release.
I adored her debut novel, Everything I Never Told You

So I have plenty to choose from! 
And...I have no plans for either Saturday or Sunday this coming weekend
so I anticipate a lot of reading to be done!

Good thing, 'cause I didn't get much read this past weekend, 
though I did purchase more books at my favorite bookstore's sidewalk sale! :)

Happy reading,


Sunday, March 3, 2019

Secrets kept? Perhaps...but at what cost?

Secrets are rarely a good idea, are they?!?
Though I guess it depends what the actual secret is and the context, doesn't it?
I admit to being a bit more enamored with this book than McManus's debut, One of Us Is Lying, mainly due to the different story arcs.
(And...neither cover is appealing to me for some reason.)
Though both mysteries are a bit creepy (for me, at least), 
they are both, in my opinion, extremely well-written,
particularly with regard to characterization, especially 
this second book. I loved Ellery and Ezra! (And what cool names!) 
My suspicions kept bouncing around to virtually all characters
at one time or another as I read. (I love that about mysteries!) 
And in the end, I didn't fully realize the solution 
until Ellery and Ezra did! Of course, by then it was a bit too late, 
at least for their own safety.

While I typically have no qualms including spoilers in my reviews, I definitely will not do so for this book. But if you love mysteries or thrillers, I would highly recommend this book. 
It is, in my opinion, a psychological thriller.

McManus is now one of my favorite writers! 

I fully appreciate the fact that one of the protagonists, Ezra, is a teenage male who happens to be gay. It is simply part of this character's background. Very big deal...that's just how it is. I'm glad that literature/novels can simply reflect the diversity of humanity. Ezra is the male portion of a set of fraternal twins, along with his sister, Ellery, who tends to be very analytical, always looking for connections, or as several characters say, creating "conspiracy theories." She has always been extremely interested in the seemingly inexplicable and sudden disappearance of her aunt, her mother's identical twin sister at the age of 17. And since her mother is now in residential rehab for challenges with addiction, she and Ezra are  forced to move in with their maternal grandmother in the small town where her mother and aunt grew up, Echo Ridge. 

Fortunately for Sadie, their mother, although she drove through and destroyed a store front, the judge overseeing her case believes in "treatment" rather than jail time. Hence their grandmother is paying for Sadie's rehabilitation treatment and also raising her grandchildren until their mother can hopefully return to daily life and resume responsibility for them. Sadie was a rather unsuccessful actress near Hollywood in California and the twins have lived in some fairly undesirable apartments and neighborhoods throughout their lifetime, so Echo Ridge is 'pastoral' by comparison and their grandmother's house is large with more-than-enough room to live comfortably. 

However, on the drive to Echo Ridge from the airport, they encounter a hit-and-run victim in the road who is already dead. He would have been Ellery and Ezra's high school teacher had he lived. No one can unravel the mystery of his death until Brooke is drunk one night and behaves in such a way as to inadvertently initiate an investigation by Ellery which eventually leads to her and the police identifying the killer. I could appreciate Mr Bowman's epitaph on his tombstone:
Tell me and I forget
Teach me and I may remember
Involve me and I learn (49)
So very true! 

Having lived in small towns, or rural/"country" areas outside of small towns, I felt McManus's descriptions of the interactions and immediate spreading of news, rumors, and gossip, were spot on. The older I get the less I can bear the pettiness that results from such a social environment. I guess I should pity those who have nothing better to do with their lives than 'spy' on friends, neighbors, and enemies, and then talk about everyone behind their backs. My mother was a champion at that, so perhaps that helps explain my disgust with such behaviors. It is harmful. No matter how a person may justify it, it can do so much harm to innocent and even not-so-innocent people. My motto has always been, "If they're talking about me, at least they're leaving some other poor innocent person alone..." :)

Ellery perfectly describes her role as peacemaker and "positive communicator" with her mother as they begin a telephone conversation:
I could refuse to play along, I guess. But as my eye catches the photo of her and her sister on my bookcase, I already feel myself wanting to please her. To smooth things over and make her smile. 
I've been doing it my entire life; it's impossible to stop now. (36)
So many times this is exactly how it is with children of parents with erratic personalities and other challenges, especially addiction. They, in effect, attempt to not only serve as parents to themselves, but also to 'parent' their own parents! They never get to be children! Another telling scene is Ellery's relief and pleasure when her grandmother encourages her to consider where she might like to attend college and to schedule her SAT exams. When she describes her lack of interest in the past due to financial insecurity, her grandmother assures Ellery that she will help her. I appreciated how this opened up all new avenues of possibilities and hope for a better future for Ellery and Ezra. 

One of Ellery and Ezra's Echo Ridge friends is Malcolm, brother of Declan, former Homecoming King, and boyfriend of the Homecoming Queen who was murdered in Echo about 5 years the age of 17. Unfortunately, he was the main suspect and appears to still manage to be at the wrong place at the wrong time...therefore, when Malcolm is the last person to see Brooke alive, it appears he may well be carrying on a frightening 'family tradition as suspect number one', just as Declan was in the past. Brooke was on the Homecoming Court and may have become Homecoming Queen herself, had she not disappeared in the 2 weeks prior to the Echo Ridge Homecoming weekend. Malcolm has always resented the fact that Declan was able to simply move away from Echo Ridge and didn't have to continue to deal with the town gossip and rumor mill about himself. Although once Declan returns and connects with his little brother, Malcolm realizes that "Declan's life is a lot shitter up close than it seems from a state away." Declan's move to another location certanly didn't solve all his problems. 

Ellery becomes obsessed with her desire to "do something. For the missing girls, and the ones left behind." It is always a challenge for those left alive to deal in the aftermath of a disappearance or murder. There is a breakthrough in the 'case' when Brooke becomes drunk and states,
I need to get it back. I shouldn't have...I just shouldn't have. 
I have to show them. It's not right, it's not okay. (135)
This is only the beginning of many clues and unanswered questions for Ellery, Ezra, and Malcolm, as they try to solve several different crimes. In the process of investigating, Ellery and Ezra discover the identity of their previously-unknown-to-them biological father, as well as a whole new family of half-siblings. 

There is a missing custom-made bracelet,
a high school class ring at a murder site, 
a receipt for car repairs under a fictitious name, 
and...paper clips.

And you are a better investigator than I if you solve all three of these crimes 
before Ellery and Ezra do...

I highly recommend this book if you like mysteries!
Have you read any good mysteries lately?
Are you anxiously anticipating the release of any new ones?

My message to Ms. McManus: All I ask is that you please keep writing--faster!! :)

Happy reading!

Sunday, February 24, 2019

Classics Club Spin #19: Giovanni's Room

This man was so talented!
I felt compelled to read more of his work 
after reading and reviewing 
This book did not disappoint! 
Neither did The Fire Next Time 
which I read just before Giovanni's Room
My immediate reaction to reading this book:
"Wow... That was really depressing..."
However, depressing as I may have felt it to be, 
I quickly decided this was likely an accurate reflection 
of more than just one man's conundrum 
when faced with sexual attraction  
that did not appear to fit 
with the heterosexual norm of the time. 

This book begins with David looking out of the window of the house in southern France that he and Hella had rented. This is following Hella's departure and an official end to their engagement. He is wondering if he ever really truly loved Hella at all... Then we learn that he had been living with Giovanni. In his "room." It was literally only a room. And not even "big enough for two." In so many ways...

David muses that perhaps his desire to "moor" himself to Hella and her decision to accept his proposal while traveling in Spain was nothing more than a desire to dispense with their "freedom," which he believes to be "nothing more unbearable, once one has it, than freedom." This is a rather well-worn conundrum. How effective is a human at handling complete "freedom," as it were? And, really, is there such a thing? I believe that in reality all of us humans "conform" to many varied social and cultural expectations, else there would be complete chaos and no cooperation or coordination amongst us, wouldn't there?
But people can't, unhappily, invent their mooring posts, their lovers, and their friends,
anymore than they can invent their parents. Life gives these and also takes them away
and the great difficulty is to say Yes to life. (10)

In recalling his first sexual encounter with another man, David depicts his great shame at the "vileness" represented by the tangled sheet at the foot of Joey's bed. Then he fears losing his manhood if others find out and finally, of his own father, who has no one (David believes) but him in his life since David's mother had died. Though it's rather obvious that David's father is an alcoholic who more often than not drags himself home late at night 'drunk as a skunk', as they say. His father's sister, Ellen, with whom they live, tries to get his father to realize what affect his behaviors can have on David:

'I certainly don't care...what you do with yourself. It isn't you I'm worried about...
It's only that you're the only person who has any authority over David...
And he only listens to me when he thinks it pleases you. 
Do you really think it's a good idea for David to see you staggering home drunk all the time?
And don't fool yourself...that he doesn't know where you're coming from, 
don't think he doesn't know about your women!' (3)
Unfortunately, David had never even considered women in his father's life...until then. And forever after he could never see a woman without wondering if his father had been "interfering" with her... Their argument concluded,
'And listen,' said my father suddenly, from the middle of the staircase, 
in a voice which frightened me, 'all I want for David is that he grow up to be a man. 
And when I say a man, Ellen, I don't mean a Sunday School teacher.'
'A man,' said Ellen, shortly, 'is not the same thing as a bull. Good-night.'
'Good-night,' he said, after a moment. 
And I heard him stagger past my door.
From that time on, with the mysterious, cunning, and dreadful intensity of the very young, 
I despised my father and hated Ellen...I don't know why.
But it allowed all of Ellen's prophecies about me to come true. 
She had said that there would come a time when nothing and nobody would be able to rule me, 
not even my father. And that time certainly came. It was after Joey. (23-24)

David admits
The incident with Joey had shaken me profoundly and its effect was to make me secretive and cruel. I could not discuss what had happened to me with anyone, 
I could not even admit it to myself; and, while I never thought about it, it remained, 
nevertheless, at the bottom of my mind, as still and as awful, as a decomposing corpse. 
And it changed, it thickened, it soured the atmosphere of my mind. 
Soon it was I who came staggering home late at night, it was I who found Ellen waiting up for me, 
Ellen and I who wrangled night in and night out. (24-25)
This basically sets the tone for the whole novel, as David later becomes embroiled in an affair with Giovanni, while his fiance is traveling in Spain, trying to decide whether she wishes to accept David's proposal of marriage. 

I could not help but wonder what affect a more open society might have had on David. When he specifically mentions there is NO ONE with whom he can speak about his male-to-male encounter with Joey and his father's irresponsible and neglectful behaviors. Would counseling have helped David better cope with these experiences? I just can't imagine that having someone he could trust to confess these feelings to wouldn't have helped him and perhaps he could have better determined his place in this world. Am I being too hopeful? An eternal optimist? I don't know, but I can't think it would have made his situation and adult life any less than it was... He was a "lost soul," in my opinion. And I felt so very sorry for him at this point. To feel totally abandoned, on your own, with no confidante or other support...that can be disabling. 

We were not like father and son, my father sometimes proudly said, we were like buddies.
I think my father sometimes actually believed this. I never did. 
I did not want to be his buddy; I wanted to be his son. (26)
A friend and I were discussing this very issue just the other day. It is a line that can be very difficult to determine sometimes--as a parent you don't want to alienate your child, yet there are situations when you must assert yourself as the "parent" and risk that occurring. And there is no tried and true "rule" to follow, it is a crap-shoot at best, and each child and parent relationship is totally unique to those two individuals. There is nothing easy about it. But it is obvious that David's father was living his own life independent of any parental responsibility or positive role modeling. Therefore, David is adrift in life and never seems to achieve any sense of stability. David continues,
He wanted no distance between us; he wanted me to look on him as a man like myself. 
But I wanted the merciful distance of father and son, 
which would have permitted me to love him. (26)

David is hospitalized after causing a wreck in his car which was full of his friends. It is after his father's visit that he realizes his father is in no shape to be a true parent. David finally moves out on his own which creates enough distance 
...much easier to deal with him and he never had any reason to feel shut out of my life 
for I was always able, when talking about it, to tell him what he wished to hear. 
And we got on quite well, really, for the vision I gave my father of my life 
was exactly the vision in which I myself most desperately needed to believe. (30)

It is at this point in the book that Baldwin waxes philosophical in a way I believe only he can/could do...
...I am--or I was--one of those people who pride themselves on their willpower, 
on their ability to make a decision and carry it through. 
This virtue, like most virtues, is ambiguity itself.
People who believe that they are strong-willed and the masters of their destiny 
can only continue to believe this by becoming specialists in self-deception. (30)
As he continues within that long paragraph I realize that I have lived in exactly that same self-deception in adulthood. I convinced myself at 10 years into my first marriage that I could do this. I could manage to withstand a spouse who refused to work for consistent income and spent every evening drunk, to raise my sons in a home where I could provide a counter-influence as a responsible hard-working adult. I managed to convince myself I had done exactly that for another 12 years, but at what cost to myself. For those 12 years I was rarely ever "happy" as a person, but I managed to survive, as did my sons. There was much chaos and some tragedy, but I don't know that our lives would have ended any better if I had left at that time and immersed us into dire poverty. If only I'd had financial security, then I could have established a single-parent household and provided a relatively secure future for my children. But I didn't have any money to fall back on and had to make the best decisions I could at the time. But yes, it did definitely require me to become a "specialist in self-deception." I had to continually convince myself this was the best decision of all alternatives. I could indeed do this... Baldwin is so very intellectual, yet so very perceptive and emotionally aware. And...he could put all that into words that resonate so deeply and clearly, even 63 years later!

As I read, I kept reminding myself that this book was first published in 1956!! Amazing! I would think Doubleday & Company took quite a risk in releasing this book at that period of time in the US. The world, especially in the US was decidedly NOT open to such sexuality! At least not in my part of the world, the US midwest. 

David describes how his life continued in much the same pattern, he would convince himself he could be heterosexual until he found himself attracted to and in bed with another male which occurred intermittently throughout his life. Even while in the army, with another soldier who was eventually court-martialed out for his sexuality. It is when Giovanni enters his life that he finally submits to a full-on relationship with another man...

The room was small, I only made out the outlines of clutter and disorder, 
there was the smell of the alcohol he burned in his stove. He locked the door behind us, 
and then for a moment, in the gloom, we simply stared at each other--
with dismay, with relief, and breathing hard. I was trembling. 
I thought, if I do not open the door at once and get away from here, I am lost. 
But I knew I could not open the door, I knew it was too late; 
soon it was too late to do anything but moan. (86)
What struck me the strongest was the immediate immersion of David into Giovanni's sub-culture of homosexuality. As if there is a separate world within society-at-large to which "these people" are relegated. And I assume that is true. One of my cousins lived in just such a world and I did somewhat understand that his sexuality plunged him into a "sub-culture," a world in which I could never be a part. And that is just so sad, in my opinion, because it automatically creates separation and that sense of social isolation--having no one in whom you can confide or even just honestly share your thoughts and feelings, let alone life experiences. He eventually turned to drugs and alcohol to escape or numb himself to the reality of his life and died young. Although his family has never, to my knowledge, honored or publicly acknowledged his death and life, I think of him each and every day, concentrating on the positive memories. That is my homage to him, and hopefully, thereby to all who are similarly marginalized by our society. 

...Giovanni had lost his job and we walked around in the evenings. Those evenings were bitter.
Giovanni knew that I was going to leave him, but he did not dare accuse me for fear of being corroborated. I did not dare to tell him. Hella was on her way back from Spain 
and my father had agreed to send me money, which I was not going to use to help Giovanni, 
who had done so much to help me. I was going to use it to escape his room. (100)
I believe Giovanni did love David, and perhaps too much. Giovanni struck me as a "clinger," someone who wants one person to provide him/her with everything necessary in their life, to be with them every second possible and have no separate life experiences--"smothering," in a word. This made Giovanni quite vulnerable, as David became all too aware. Though David realized he must leave in order to 'save himself,' as it were. Added to this was the claustrophobic atmosphere created by "the room," which Baldwin does an excellent job of describing to make the reader feel the cloistered atmosphere contained therein. 

David takes the coward's way out, just simply leaving Giovanni, with no forewarning, effectively abandoning him. (I admit I hated him for doing that to Giovanni. Though in a demented way, I could kinda understand...) In the aftermath, Giovanni becomes partner to a "sugar daddy" and eventually is convicted of killing a man and is sentenced to death. Once Hella returns to France from Spain, David tries to "find [his] way in her again, as though she were a familiar,  darken'd room in which I fumbled to find the light." Ah, what great literary talent! Referring back to "that room" but in the context of trying to re-establish a heterosexual relationship with Hella! Their first evening upon being reunited in Paris,
I held her close and kissed her, closing my eyes. 
Everything was as it had been between us, and at the same time everything was different. 
I told myself I would not think about Giovanni yet, I would not worry about him yet;
for tonight, anyway, Hella and I should be together with nothing to divide us. 
Still, I knew very well that this was not really possible: he had already divided us. 
I tried not to think of him sitting alone in that room, wondering why I stayed away so long. (160)
Ah, it would seem David's ability at self-delusion has finally self-destructed...

It is in David's last encounter with Giovanni that his inability to reconcile his homosexuality with the reality of his life expresses itself as he accuses Giovanni of being afraid to "go after a woman":
[Giovanni] was pale. 'You are the one who keeps talking about what I want. 
But I have only been talking about who I want.'
'But I'm a man, [David] cried, 'a man! What do you think can happen between us?'
'You know very well,' said Giovanni slowly, 'what can happen between us. 
It is for that reason you are leaving me...If I could make you stay, I would.' (189)
I felt so very sorry for Giovanni at this point. While I had some insight into David's decision, I still felt sympathy for Giovanni--he was in love! That is all he knew! And although David did love him, he realized, for a myriad of reasons, he was unable to commit to their relationship long-term. Always sad for one person to be totally committed and the other is unable to reciprocate those feelings... And then, David is similarly unable to commit to Hella, in that she senses his reticence in their own relationship which now exists, and she is unable to accept his distance and their lack of sincere spontaneous interaction. 

I particularly appreciated Baldwin's emphasis on Guillarme, the murdered man, being mythologized in the aftermath of his death, mainly owing to the fact that his family once held an immense fortune and well-known history of affluence. Other homosexual males living in the same area were totally shunned by society, as was he in his lifetime. Amazing what a difference 'social status' can make, isn't it?

As mentioned above, I initially thought this was a depressing read, but then realized it was simply a description of life for those who are marginalized and forced to try to reconcile their feelings in accordance with society's mores and norms, and that more often than not, this is impossible for individuals to accomplish successfully. is just so sad...

Have you read this novel?
Have you ever wondered about it?
I would strongly recommend that you experience it for yourself. 
I found it to be informative and enlightening in a very personal way.
I could easily connect certain aspects of David's relationships to my own.

Happy reading!