Tuesday, November 29, 2011

You Don't Love This Man, DeWeese

You Don’t Love This Man
Dan DeWeese

“Among the million images of my daughter that had passed through my eyes, why were these the ones that lingered? Asleep during a toddler nap, aloft above the playground, laughing at the table: each was of Miranda alone, I noticed. Or alone, save for the presence of the mind recording the moments, of course. Save for me. “

Why do things happen the way they happen? Is life merely a series of meaningless coincidences? Do our actions or non-actions play any kind of role in the outcome? Do some people have control while others stand by, waiting and stewing? These are some of the questions raised by Dan DeWeese’s novel, You Don’t Love This Man. Another question might be who is “this man,” anyway? On the surface the title seems to refer to Grant, the protagonist’s one-time friend and future son-in-law, but it’s possible that it also refers to the main character himself. As a quiet, mild-mannered bank manager, Paul does not make a particularly exciting hero, after all. In fact the author himself refers to the character, in the afterward, as a “sidelined” person. It makes sense: Paul is in many ways only coincidentally and peripherally involved in the plot itself, but this book is not about the plot. It is about the mind at work observing the plot as it unfolds. These seemingly trivial, yet weighty, observations of the main character – a spider building a web outside his office window over the course of several days, the disappearance of his co-worker’s freckles when she wears makeup, and his recognition that he does not want them to disappear – were some of my favorite parts of the book.  

In my MA degree I studied “British Modernist” literature with particular care, and it seems to me that DeWeese’s novel has several of the elements that I attribute to work in this genre. You Don’t Love This Man is modernist in the sense that it interrogates one man’s thoughts and actions over the course of a single day (two of the most famous modernist works, Woolf’s Mrs. Dalloway and Joyce’s Ulysses, also fit this profile), which just so happens to be the wedding day of his only daughter. Though the action of the novel takes place in the present tense, the past haunts it at every corner. Paul has taken the day of his daughter’s wedding off from work, but ends up being called in when his branch gets robbed. Paul realizes that the man in the robbery photos is the same one who robbed him twenty-five years ago, an event which was instrumental in solidifying his relationship with the woman who would be the mother of his only child, as well as the man who would be his friend until he started dating his daughter. The investigation of the robbery, as well as a missing bride, provide the author plenty of opportunity for explanatory flashbacks, all of which seem to propel the book forward towards some kind of grand conclusion.
It is this aspect of pacing, I think, that makes the novel seem different to me: it’s slow and steady, yet seems to build towards a crescendo which, most likely purposefully, never arrives. I won’t give the ending away (part of the book’s beauty is this feeling of moving towards something big) except to say that DeWeese does not provide easy answers, or concede to readers’ desires for all the threads to tie up (with one exception). What emerges is a pattern. Life has one, DeWeese seems to say, but its particularities may or may not mean anything. This idea reminds me of what I took to be Somerset Maugham’s message in Of Human Bondage, another modernist text. The notion of life as “a Persian rug,” passed on to Philip by a drunken painter he reveres as a kind of sage, seems to fit DeWeese’s book quite well. The novel is “modernist” in this sense, then, too: life may not contain a meaning, but it is full of beauty and worthy of our curiosity. For Paul, that seems to be enough. After all, what choice do we have but to live?  

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