In His Arms

Following Proust’s suggestion, I’ve started reading novels about the kinds of things I want to write about. Before this, I’ve stayed away from them, afraid that I would just end up just rehashing someone else’s ideas. I was delighted with the very first book I chose, Camille Lauren’s In His Arms.

Years ago I read a book on writing fiction which instructed the potential novelist to avoid the pitfall of making her novel a thinly-veiled autobiography by first writing an autobiography. Get it all out first. Dutifully I began, but I soon was got caught up in defining what makes an autobiography. What makes a life? How do I define myself? Am I the sum of my experiences? A series of events? The things I did or the things that happened to me? My various jobs? My relationships with others: daughter, mother, wife, and mistress?

In In His Arms Camille Laurens has taken the last course. She explains, It would be a book about men, about the love of men: as loved objects and loving subjects…It would be a book about a woman’s men, all of them, from the first to the last…in the order, or lack of it, in which they first appear in her life, in the mysterious shifts of proximity and distance that would make them change in her eyes, as they left, returned, stayed, altered. The form of the book would thus be discontinous, so that the turning of its pages would mimic this to-ing and fro-ing, the progressions and ruptures that splice and split her connections with them: the men would have their entrances and exits, as in the theater, some would have just one scene, others several, they’d have a greater or lesser importance, as in real life, and more or less space, as in our memories.

This plan touches on two themes I’m interested in: how each person potentially holds a piece of our puzzle; and, how different our sense of self is depending on whose eyes are reflecting us. To define ourselves, we find our boundaries, that line where you no longer exist and the other begins.

I enjoyed In His Armsas much as a chat over coffee with a good woman friend who was also a lover of words and men. It provided thoughts to disagree with, disagreement being the sure way to jump-start my own ideas. I enjoyed the riffs on words. I thought the cadence and pacing was close to how I write, or want to write. So I was dismayed to read the negative reviews on Amazon. Tedious. Self-conscious. Dull. Mechanical. Wooden. Well, that doesn’t give me much encouragement for my writing.

“For men must reciprocate the overpowering interest she has in them. She likes men who think about women…she keeps them at the right distance so that they can be reflected on.” — pp. 8-9

“I was set on seducing a man, but not by the normal approach of concealing everything from him…instead by telling him everything–or at least the heart of the matter–that essential part of each of us that, once it is revealed, means that we are or are not loveable.” — p. 16

“Why was it so good in the beginning? Because we made do without words, because we got by perfectly without saying any of the things that are usually said at such times. When you have desire, words are excess baggage. Speaking, in fact, eliminates desire.” — p 24

I noted this because I believe just the opposite. At least in Cassie’s case. She was seduced with words.

“…isn’t writing sometimes precisely about making up for your mistakes, and for love letters blown away in the wind?” — p. 61

“Often, it’s precisely such ties that attract her to a man, she’s interested in what a man adheres to.” — p. 105

“I love explorers, men who are curious about women and about that part of themselves that dark, obscure, and desirable, lies in others. …why sex? Because it’s a way of knowing, and the best one we have given that the difference is fundamentally sexual after all! The Bible uses the very “to know” to mean “to make love” and that says it all: I love men who want to know me. — p 108

“For her, friendship is the end of love, that’s all there is to it. The male friend has once been loved and no longer is. He is a dismal manifestation of the passing of time, of time that has passed.” — p. 109

“But when she thinks about him, everything seems vague and unreal, she’s full of confused impressions, as though she was remembering a performance seen long ago, she can’t separate what she felt for him in her heart, what she feels when she recalls him…she can hardly make out the past.” — p. 135

“She likes getting his letters, at the beginning it’s a pleasure to open a letter, read it, get to know a man through his sentences, their rhythm, their parentheses–his letters are like a mind breathing, the respiration of intelligence.”
— p. 161

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