In Alfred Hayes’ work, romantic love is more deadly than God

Picture Leonie Bos

A man is sitting in a hotel bar at 3 o’clock in the afternoon, he starts a conversation with a woman. “Here I am,” he says, “almost 40, some brand knowledge, some money in the bank.” He claims that everything about him is genuine enough if one does not look closely.

This is how the short novel begins In love by the novelist, screenwriter and journalist Alfred Hayes (1911-1985). Half forgotten, rediscovered – in 2015 this novel was published in Dutch as The price of love – and forgotten again.

Hayes was born in London into a Jewish family and moved to New York with his parents at the age of 3. His father was a hairdresser and bookmaker, he wanted his son to become an accountant, but Alfred dropped out of school and started working who serve and copy boy for newspapers. He also used to steal books from libraries and resell them. He later became a convinced Marxist, a journalist for newspapers that no longer exists (New York Daily MirrorNew York Americans) and in 1943 he was drafted into the US Army, which landed him in Italy.

Frederic Raphael, who wrote a preface to the American reissue of In love in 2007 and is himself a screenwriter – for example, he co-wrote the screenplay with Stanley Kubrick Wide closed eyes -, claims that Hayes must have had a good ear for Italian; After the Germans were expelled from Rome, Hayes stayed there, came in contact with the film directors Roberto Rossellini (1906-1977) and Federico Fellini (1920-1993) and helped write Rossellini’s war films. paisà† He also appears to have contributed anonymously to another famous film, bicycle thieves Bicycle ladders) by Vittorio De Sica. His lack of credit may be typical of Hayes’ career, after the war he became a screenwriter in Los Angeles, but he fell off the A-list pretty quickly, working mainly on films that would be forgotten, perhaps already forgotten. before they arrived. right.

Director and actor Mel Brooks, who worked with Hayes in the Columbia film studio, said that one day after lunch, Hayes found out that his name tag had been removed from the office where he worked. Also a way to fire people.

This Los Angeles, where people dream of fame and money – as elsewhere, but a little more intense – and where, as Hayes himself writes, the famous dream of becoming even more famous, has been seen through no one better than Billy Wilder (1906 – 2002). IN Sunset Boulevard he shows sharply, unsentimentally and yet compassionately where this overly human desire leads. Hallucinatory forms of self-deception, endless degrees of prostitution and a loneliness not yet fought by an almost endless army of relief workers.

Where redemption consists of fame and a lot of money, abuse of power will always show up. In addition, there will be people who, for whatever reasons, are out of this rat race withdraw and direct their desires towards something else or to nothing. Hayes was probably such a man; Raphael attributes his ambiguity, the fact that so little is known about his life, to Hayes’ lack of ambition. Misfortune and his aversion to self-promotion will no doubt have played a role as well.

Hayes wrote poems before he began writing novels and manuscripts. Shortly after the war he published Three war poems in Harper’s Magazine, with verses like: ‘And that between myself and annihilation / stood only the thickness of a certain tree and a captain’s skill.’ These poems show how seriously he understandably still takes the war, but also that it is a form of liberation for him. ‘Meanwhile, I enjoy the city: the violence of this alien life.’

One of his poems was Joe HillOriginally from 1925 and sung by Joan Baez in the 1960s, also at Woodstock, it became a hit for the protest generation. When, just before his death, he was called to comment on this poem, his most important legacy at the time, he hung up.

The nameless protagonist from In love resembles its creator in that the belief in fame and small fortune seems to have escaped him. It’s not for nothing that he’s in a hotel bar at 3pm in the afternoon. As could be seen from the introductory sentence, he is not the smooth-talking type, for example, he also wonders aloud whether the misfortune he feels is real, and he describes the feeling of ‘loss of meaning with all things ‘, as if he were an ornithologist looking at birds and seeing only’ identical feathers’. These thoughts will not be very attractive to a random stranger, in private life one usually waits only in moderation for the misery of others, and yet the woman continues to listen to him, also because she, like him, does not know where else she would go . should. “All our efficiency is false,” he says.

The woman, she is divorced and has a child, which she has placed with her parents, recognizes something in this man. And she thinks he needs her. “She would be someone’s sun and moon and stars,” Hayes writes. The desire for fame and fortune has left these two with the realization that the world is an amusement park where many visitors do not enjoy themselves at all, even though the man seems to have resigned himself to it more than the woman.

Hayes is good at short, sober descriptions. When the narrator goes with the woman, he describes her bathroom, the ointments, the various deodorant sticks, as “the chaos of a pharmacy on the verge of bankruptcy.” The bathroom, it’s the woman; her desires, her courtesy, her hygiene, her past and her hopes.

They have a relationship, passionate and yet hesitant, because when things have lost their meaning, when all the birds have come to resemble each other, then that meaning does not return immediately thanks to a woman who gives the sun, the moon and the stars for her beloved wants to be while her parents care for her child.

The greatest amusement in the amusement park called the world is “the pleasure of love,” and one of the questions this novel asks is why that pleasure must be accompanied by so much suffering. Probably because love for many people is so much more than the most beautiful attraction in the amusement park, rather a life fulfillment, maybe even something sacred. And there, of course, it goes wrong, as Vivian Gornick nicely put it in a review of this novel, which she says is about wounds and ailments in people who have sought redemption in the wrong place. Romantic love is the wrong place, but what is the right place?

In a profile in New Yorkers Rachel Cusk praised the novel, claiming that Hayes paints a penetrating picture of “a world without love.” She seems to reduce love, which is known to have many shades, to a certain kind of it, sentimental romance, which for me consists only of clichés. There is love in this novel, in fact, a lot. Selfish, deficient, evil, greedy, timid, and ultimately lonely. Hayes describes a world where sentimental, romantic love is more mortal than God, but where the deeds, the actions, the rituals are still performed, yes, fully honored.

A third comes in, a man named Howard. She meets him on one of the hot summer nights in a nightclub in New York, he is impressed and makes her a Obscene proposal: if she spends a night with him, he will give her a thousand dollars. A thousand dollars must have been a fortune in those days, must be a fortune for the woman, as if someone in Holland today would say to you: ‘If you stay with me, I will buy you a spacious house in the center of Amsterdam. ‘

She is thinking of her child.

There are temptations, there is also economic necessity.

Of course, I will not accept that offer, she tells the narrator.

Of course she agrees, but differently. One night becomes many and the thousand dollars are no more. But for Howard, she’s not the sun, the stars, and the moon – who are you ultimately for? – and she returns to the narrator, though not for long. Or is it?

“The point is,” says the narrator on the last page, “it stays up there on the leash, balances with a junk umbrella, and is so glad we’ve scared the public a little bit, it’s ruining us.”

If there is nothing left of romantic love other than empty gestures and we balance in the slope without safety nets with a small umbrella, seeking redemption, then it is only the fall that will make things make sense again. The higher the rope, the deeper, the more real the trap, it is the trap that must free the nameless narrator from the paralyzing feeling of not being genuine.

What the two people over there in the hotel bar in the afternoon are looking for is someone to get along with.

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