Reading list 001: J. Baumbach, “You, or the Invention of Memory”

“What if I said that I did know you once, awhile back, if I did say as much, would you let me leave?”

In swift, spare strokes, in plain, unadorned language, Jonathan
Baumbach disassembles the romantic-spiritual complex that undergirds
our consumer society. One pairing—one man, one woman—is dissected,
disassembled, integrated, rejiggered, and put back together over and
over again in the course of the novel. The inevitable tragedy is that
even in the welcoming home of the reader’s imagination, the two only
combine at odd and disturbing angles that require an awkward amount of
force at an inconvenient angle to sustain.
The ‘You’ of the catchy title is the unnamed female protagonist, but
the book is more about the predicate, ‘The Invention of Memory.’ It’s
the anti-Valentine. All the clues that in romantic comedies and dime
novels lead to amatory resolution and eternal happiness are aligned in
‘You’ instead with an existential despair. ‘You, or the Invention of
Memory’ starts out traditionally, as the narrator describes his quest
for self-discovery through passionate love (shades of Plato’s
Symposium), but it ends up more cruel and more pitiless than
any love story, in an anonymous stairwell of an anonymous building,
between floors, as Baumbach makes clear that the quest for
self-discovery has gone horribly wrong.
Baumbach’s genius goes beyond poking the ripe balloon of romance. If
commonplace wisdom decrees that a fulfilled romance affirms the
lovers’ identity, both singular and whole, this book describes the
inverse, in which a failed romance has eroded not only their memories
of each other, but their identities as well. These lovers don’t
murmur, “You complete me,” but rather “You’ve erased me.”
Get your own copy; buy one here or here,
or get with ace publicist Lauren Cerand on her New You Project blog.