Each book has a first sentence, a first paragraph, and a first page. That first can make all the difference. Some books had an ever-lasting impact on me just because of the first words.
I wrote earlier that I was blown away Andrew Sean Greer’s “Portrait of a Marriage”, especially the opening.
I love you. We say it to each other all the time. We say it instead of saying something else. What would that something else be? You: I’m dying. Us: Don’t leave me. Me: I don’t know why to do. Before: I don’t know what I’ll do without you. When you’re not here any more. Now: I don’t know what to do with these days, all this time, in which death is the most conspicuous of all things. I love you. You say it in the night when you wake up in pain, or between dreams, and reach out for me. I say it to you when my hand finds your skull, which has become small and round in my palm now that your hair is almost gone, or when I stroke you gently to get you to turn over and stop snoring. I love you. Once, I would reach out in the night to touch your skin, to place my hand on your back, your stomach, your thigh, anywhere at all, and there’d be connection, contact. And in that feeling of skin and warmth, something small and without language, something perhaps undeveloped in me, a newborn part, could sink down to sense the base of night, return home, or arrive. I love you. But you are no longer in your body, I don’t know where you are. Awash in morphine, you drift in and out of sleep or languor, and we do not talk about death, I love you, you say to me instead, and reach out for me from the bed on which you lie through the days, fully dressed, writing on your phone, writing a novel on that little screen, two or three lines at a time before you drift into sleep again, and I let go of the door frame and step towards you and take your hand and look at you and say: I love you too.
For more: Hanne Orstavik, “Ti amo”, translated by Martin Aitken, And Other Stories, 2022.