Jul 25 2009
Dear Mr. Lane:
I reviewed your Dark Heart in February (the book of the gorgeous cover), which I very much enjoyed. So when you sent me White Flag, I was thrilled to have it, short though it is (only 68 pages). And it was an enjoyable, if predictable, little read. But I’m really writing about it because of its place in another conversation I’m having about romance.
Charlie is a travel writer, a rolling stone, content never EVER to settle. On a canal in the French countryside, he meets Matthieu, scion of a vineyard family, who is attractive, seductive, determined…and has put down roots so strongly there’s no way to uproot him. Instant drama. Instant, unfixable conflict.
As I said, it’s a short little book, told from Charlie’s first person POV. Every now and then it’s got the emotional disconnect that I associate MFA program writing, in which the characters are observers of their own lives, not actors. But that’s appropriate for Charlie, who’s terrified about being dragged out of his observational mode and into the life of a boisterous, loving family. But then the emotions come back, most especially when Charlie and Matt consider Charlie’s inability to stay and Matt’s inability to leave. It’s a gentle little book, evocative of French wine-country, beautifully descriptive of Matt’s special wine, piercingly emotional when necessary. Predictable, yes, even in its ending, but that predictability is not necessarily a bad thing because it lets you just feel the emotions–and what else do we all read romance for, anyway?
So I whole-heartedly recommend White Flag as a half-an-hour read that just lets you sink into the gentle, emotional romance of two attractive men. And such beautiful writing:
Sometimes I thought those few days were like the water that we navigated. On the bright, sun-warm surface they were all glitter and idleness, an ideal time, two young men in no hurry at all to get where they were going. Matt slept beside me every night and woke me in the morning, tender and demanding: sometimes an ambassador with gifts, sometimes a fortress to be stormed. During the days he was just there, shirtless and beautiful, bringing coffee or demanding his turn on the tiller, lying sprawled on the cabin roof asleep or reading or sometimes reading aloud when he found something he wanted to share, talking or listening or interrupting, trying to correct my accent. Taking me away from the canal to show me a market, a citadel, a view. Opening a bottle of wine while he criticised my cooking. A constant presence, charming and desirable and maddening sometimes, always a delight and a promise and a sense of impending loss.
But the conversation into which this book so neatly inserts itself for me is one I’m having over at Jessica’s Racy Romance Reviews about Anah Crow’s Uneven (my review)and BDSM in fiction and real life. One thing that’s in contention over there is the issue of how the violence in the BDSM relationship in Uneven is self-negating for Rase (the masochist) and whether that is ethical and/or moral and something to be pursued and/or approved of. And what White Flag shows for me so beautifully is that all romance is about self-negation. All romance comes down to the conflict and the compromise to make the relationship work, in real life as well as in fiction. Because if one doesn’t compromise, if one doesn’t negate something about oneself, the relationship cannot work.
So Charlie (which I hear with such a strong French accent: Sharlee–blame French Kiss, my favorite movie of all time)…Charlie says to Matthieu:
I gestured at the white flag and said, “I surrender.” Wholeheartedly, uncomplicatedly, unconditionally. “I will stay, if you will let me. If you’ll still have me.” At whatever cost to myself, my life, my work. I could learn to stay still, to live another kind of life. As long as I was loved, as long as he would love me, I could learn.
And of course, Matthieu reciprocates. They both deny or change or adapt an essential part of themselves, they both surrender, they both give up their individual selves in order to be a whole together. And that, that right there, is the essence of romance for me. That’s what makes me keep reading. That moment of surrender, of giving up, of compromise and connection after the dark moment: “As long as I was loved, as long as he would love me”. And if that’s gently done through a white flag, or violently done through a backhand across the face, surely both are still romance.
Thank you for making me think and for such a thoroughly enjoyable hour of reading.
This book can be purchased at Loose Id.