alice in wonderland, beauty and the bitch, beckett, camus, catcher in the rye, grendel, hate love, jd salinger, john gardner, lewis carroll, love sucks, romantic subplot, T5W, the stranger, Top 5 Wednesday, waiting for godot
Someone once told me that I have a cold dead lump where my heart should be. To that person I replied, “MOM GET OUT OF HERE I’M TRYING TO POOP.”
Anyway, the T5W this week is appropriately curmudgeonly and hateful: books without romance. Once I started exploring my library, however, I quickly realized that almost every book I own contains some romance…or sex…or unrequited love…or deeply pathetic fantasizing about love. Oh no, wait. I was looking through my journals. Well, anyway, I’m making the executive decision to expand this topic from “absolutely no mention of romance” to “very little romance.”
What, ya wanna fight me about it? Come at me, brah!
5. The Stranger
This is not a sexy book. I mean, unless you find deep existential angst sexy (which, actually, I do). Albert Camus’ absurdist 1942 novel is built around the funeral of the protagonist’s mother, a senseless and random murder, and some bleak criminal justice.
OH CRUD AND HEARTACHE – I just remembered that Meursault, the protagonist, does indulge in a random hookup with some lady on the beach (okay, I looked it up: her name is Marie and she’s a former employee of his firm). Well, fine.
I still feel comfortable arguing that this classic, which was named the #1 most important book of the 20th century by Le Monde, is far from romantic. The love and sex that does exist is just as bleak as everything else and Meursault’s affair with Marie is, like everything else in his life, doomed by his refusal (inability?) to partake of and conform within society.
Grendel is one of the three monster antagonists from the Old English poem Beowulf:
“Till the monster stirred, that demon, that fiend/Grendel who haunted the moors, the wild/Marshes, and made his home in a hell./Not hell but hell on earth. He was spawned in that slime/Of Cain, murderous creatures banished/ By God, punished forever for the crime/ Of Abel’s death.”
Grendel the novel was published in 1971 and retells the ancient poem from Grendel’s point of view. It’s a story in the same vein as Wicked by Gregory McGuire – Grendel is an intelligent, frustrated anti-hero misunderstood by the protagonist(s) of the original work. Similar in some ways to The Stranger, the book is a bleak, nihilistic exploration of the meaning of life.
Though Grendel does briefly become enraptured by Wealtheow, the beautiful princess of a neighboring Norse camp, he decides to show this love by murdering her before ultimately deciding that decisions don’t matter and that murder and mercy are both equally meaningless. He lets her go not out of love, but out of apathy.
I guess the only real love in Grendel’s life, beyond his instinctual love for his mute horror of a mother, is his love of myth and storytelling. But even that love, by the time his arm is ripped off by stoic, violent Beowulf, is submerged in a deep pit of despair and disgust. Grendel dies cursing life and love and the illusion (?) of free will. Definitely not a romance.
I should probably stop listing this novel in my Top 5 lists. I know it’s repetitive. But look, that’s what makes this a masterpiece! It encompasses various universal meanings and allows for various diverse interpretations.
Anyway, Catcher in the Rye is especially appropriate for this list because the main thrust of the story (at least in my opinion) is Holden’s fear and distrust of adulthood and all the things that come with being an adult. Including romantic love. That being said, there’s plenty of familial love in this book. Well, of course: that’s one of the kinds of love (along with friendship and general love of humankind) that children know best.
Granted, the plot of the novel incorporates a few crushes. Holden gets in a fight that is at least nominally over his roommate going on a date with his old friend Jane Gallagher. He dances with a woman in New York but finds they can’t maintain a conversation. He hires a prostitute but then just wants to talk. He goes on a date with Sally Hayes, but the highlight of his evening is overhearing a small child singing “if a body catch a boy coming through the rye.”
My point is that there are plenty of aborted romantic encounters in Catcher in the Rye. Plenty of intimations at love, but no actual romance. Each of the encounters that Holden has with women (and, in one case, with a queer English teacher) rot on the vine. None of the failed dates, failed dances or failed telephone conversations mean enough to count as a romantic subplot. In fact, their importance lies in their failure.
I used to think that Waiting for Godot is about a queer relationship. Well, in a way, it is. It’s about two homeless men, Vladimir and Estragon, who own essentially nothing and have essentially no one. Except, of course, each other. Their relationship is rock-solid, true. But it’s not sexual. Something I’ve learned to appreciate as I’ve grown older is the power of friendship. Romance burns white hot, but friendship isn’t a flame. It’s a foundation. You can destroy it, sure, but it’s easier to build up than tear down.
So there’s no romance in this play. There’s hope and madness, turnips and boots, one spindly tree, a master and a slave, hope, despair and plenty of waiting…but no romance. And no Godot.
There are weird and unpleasant lovey vibes between Alice and The Mad Hatter in Tim Burton’s 2010 Alice in Wonderland (and even a rumored deleted romantic subplot), but I hope everyone will agree that that’s an abomination. If Alice kisses The Mad Hatter, she’s…essentially a rapist. He’s MAD. That’s the whole point of his character. So he can’t give consent. And further, Alice is seven at the youngest…maybe fifteen in the movie. The Mad Hatter is of indeterminate age, but he’s at least older than eighteen. So that’s statutory rape, right there.
My point: there’s no room for romance in Alice in Wonderland. Alice is too busy navigating between and around the completely insane characters, rules, and topography to bother with the most powerful catalyst for insanity in the entire universe: love.