Sunday, January 22, 2012

DEAR ANDRE ACIMAN




This is the weirdest kind of fan letter, but I know that you will understand. How many times have I read book reviews in the New York Times that made me want to run right out and read the book, yet I never follow up on it? Well, this time started out as only a minor exception.

I was cautious. I asked the library to buy the book so I could see if my instinct that we were meant for each other was right. As a so-called writing expert and specialist in French literature, I do not give my writing heart up to just anyone. But the evidence that you might be the one was there.

As I think back to that article I'm trying to recall just what it was that snared me. Was it the lavender? I never actually thought I'd like its scent, but now that I have become a newborn in Italy, I have a special relationship with this flower whose relaxing and sleep-inducing properties I have come to appreciate.

Or was it all of those references to Marcel Proust? Well he and I have had a thorny relationship ever since as a graduate student, I was forced to swallow every word of his novel.

No, it was the loving references to La Princesse de Clèves that nailed it. She and I have had a rocky relationship for a long time. I used to be very angry at her for the way she seemed to allow her cult of self-abnegation to run roughshod over her incomparable suitor. I could see how her 17th century scruples would have led her to refuse the Duke while her husband was still alive. But he was so patient and perfect that it is hard to imagine why she would deny both of their chances for a happy life once the man she never loved was out of the picture. Over the several decades of our relationship, however, I now see that that was, on my part, a youthful and rash rush to judgment. And now, here you are finding in la Princesse a soulmate.

I had a wild and crazy idea about writing a modern love story with her as  the inspiration. I am wondering if she, during this age of the Internet, would have eventually reconsidered what she did: run away to a convent in order to preserve her equanimity and fulfill her need to punish herself for having had intense feelings for an irresistible someone other than her aged and then dead husband. Maybe le Duc de Nemours was just one click away on Google.

The way you describe your own imaginary relationship with the gypsy girl at the supermarket--all the elaborate feinting on both sides--have made me rethink the whole thing.

But the clincher was the way you describe your relationship with the feelings expressed by other authors--how you treasure the flash of recognition that comes from meeting in print a kindred spirit. That is the kind of writing I love to read, and that I encourage myself and my students to seek.

I am very excited to have found you.

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