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RAYMOND AND HANNAH by Stephen Marche

RAYMOND AND HANNAH

By Stephen Marche

Pub Date: May 1st, 2005
ISBN: 0-15-603257-0
Publisher: Harvest/Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

One-night stand of a mid-20s Toronto couple stretches into travel to Jerusalem, in a brief first novel, self-conscious and finally compromised hopelessly by its own editorial apparatus—with actual author’s notes in the margin.

Most solid about this tender love story is its charming detail as it switches back and forth in point of view. Raymond, a doctoral candidate in English literature, fresh from a broken love affair, meets Hannah at a party and goes with her to her attic apartment. The date extends into a week’s glut of sex (“After the initial stages of an affair, it becomes necessary to widen the range of sexual positions,” as the author notes). Then Hannah must fly to Jerusalem for a nine-month stay to explore her Jewish identity while learning Torah at an Orthodox institute. The two correspond lustily via e-mail, until Raymond discloses after many months that he has fallen into another affair with a 19-year-old Asian violinist. By this time, however, he already has tickets to visit Hannah, and, when he arrives, their romance blossoms happily at the Western Wall—again, just at the countdown to a departure for Hannah. Can there be true love here, even if Raymond isn’t Jewish and even if the couple does return to Toronto for good? Canadian newcomer Marche is a witty writer, and the narrative becomes a parody of many styles—journalistic, academic (the sections on doctoral subject Richard Burton’s Anatomy of Melancholy show scholarly depth) and biblical, all underscored by the mock-ponderous comments in the margins, such as “Raymond considers the silence” or “Toronto aubade.” But the swath of e-mail correspondence between Hannah and Raymond is simply tedious. Further, the couple is separated during the middle section of an otherwise slender narrative, rupturing the sexy fluidity of the beginning. Still, the writing is jaunty and stylistically nimble.

A touching narrative, frustratingly at arm’s length.