In Love by Alfred Hayes

A couple of years ago I read My Face for the World to See by Alfred Hayes, a story of an affair between a married man and a wounded aspiring actress (Max and Guy have reviewed it). Had I been blogging at the time, it would have made my end-of-year highlights, so I was looking forward to reading another Hayes novel: In Love, first published in 1953.

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As In Love opens, an unnamed man in his late thirties is telling his story to the pretty young girl he has just met in a hotel bar. It’s a tale that charts the various stages of his relationship with another young woman, a love affair that now appears to be over. As the narrator begins to relate his story, we get the sense that he is trying to understand what happened and why. He appears lost and adrift in a world that no longer holds any purpose or meaning for him.

At the time of their meeting, the object of the narrator’s affection, a nameless woman in her early twenties, is living on her own in a studio apartment in New York. By way of the narrator, Hayes does a fine job of conveying this woman’s sense of vulnerability. She is recently divorced and still a little bruised following her failure to connect with her former husband, and despite being young, beautiful and relatively hopeful, she exudes a sense of melancholy. What she wants more than anything is some comfort that the future will hold something better for her: a permanent relationship, a comfortable home, and another child. (There is a young girl from her first marriage, a daughter named Barbara who resides with the woman’s mother.) In short, she is hoping for the American Dream.

…but it seems to me now that this disorder, so much in evidence, and so little cared about, came from the fact that she considered the life that she was leading then as only temporary. This house, the way she lived, was only a hasty arrangement, thrown together to cover a time in her life which she did not consider too important, and in which she did not feel any necessity for putting things into any sort of final order. The final order had not yet arrived; she was waiting for it to arrive. (pg. 13)

But as the narrator looks back to early stages of the affair, it’s as if he is entering his own separate dream. We see a time when everything is free-spirited and idyllic, a period he expects to continue for as long as it suits him.

She would exist among these love letters and these portraits for as long as I loved her. I did not, of course, think of myself as loving her forever, but neither did I think of the time when I would stop loving her. No, what I thought, I suppose, really, was that this scene would remain forever unchanged: […] It was a very convenient and fixed and unvarying idyll I had in mind, a simple sequence of pleasures that would not seriously change my life or interfere with my work, that would fill the emptiness of my long evenings and ease the pressures of my loneliness, and give me what I suppose I really thought of as the nicest amusement in all the amusement park: the pleasure of love. (pgs. 18-19)

One evening while the woman is out with friends, she meets a wealthy businessman by the name of Howard, who offers her $1,000 to spend the night with him. The woman is tempted; she is flattered and curious. Howard appears sincere and lonely. $1,000 is a lot of money, a potential nest egg for her daughter, Barbara. And besides, the narrator has always maintained that they should have an open relationship leaving them free to see other people every now and again.

I don’t want to say too much about what happens next, but Howard’s proposition sparks the decline in the narrator’s relationship with his lover. As the woman becomes increasingly involved with Howard, the narrator begins to experience a kind of paralysis. At first he is only too ready to believe that this woman still loves him; her relationship with Howard is purely one of convenience, something she can step away from at any moment. Little by little though, the woman becomes absorbed into another life, a process that throws into sharp relief the emptiness of the narrator’s own existence.

All I knew, really, was that she had taken away with her when she had gone something which in the past had held me together, some necessary sense of myself, something without which I seemed in danger of collapsing; and whatever it was, an indispensable vanity, an irreplaceable idea of my own invulnerability, it was gone and only she could restore it to me, or so I thought. For without whatever it was, I seemed poor, depleted, injured in some mysterious way; without it, there was nothing to interpose between the world and me. (pg. 78)  

I read In Love during the hot, heady days of early July, and despite turning the story over in my mind for several weeks I’m still not quite sure how I feel about it. As a reader, I found the two central characters, the nameless narrator and the equally anonymous woman, rather difficult to engage with. At times, the narrator appears self-centred, bitter and eaten up by jealousy. But there were moments when I felt something approaching sympathy for him, especially as he doesn’t quite realise how much he is in love with this woman until she has virtually slipped away from him. And when I think of the young woman, she isn’t quite as fragile as she appears at first sight; as the story moves forward, a somewhat more unpredictable side to her character emerges.

If the ‘proposition’ element of the set-up sounds familiar, the introduction to this NYRB edition draws the comparison with the 1993 film Indecent Proposal in which Robert Redford makes a similar proposal to Demi Moore. Hayes’ novel is very different though; it is much darker and more penetrating than Adrian Lyne’s film. In Love reminded me very much of another novel I read earlier this year, Simenon’s Three Bedrooms in Manhattan, also set in New York and published in the period immediately following WWII. The sense of loneliness and desolation evoked by Edward Hopper’s paintings of the 1940s is another touchstone for Hayes’ story.

Hayes’ prose is very evocative, and the early chapters of the novel are full of long, meandering, meditative sentences. At times In Love reminded me of certain aspects of James Salter’s work, something along the lines of Light Years, although there is much more bitterness in the Hayes, especially in the closing stages.

Ultimately, In Love is an examination of the breakdown of a relationship, the transition from hope to disillusionment, from desire to jealousy, from expectation to loss. I’ll finish with a quote that seems to capture it as well as any other:

I suppose no evening is ever again like the very first evening, the nakedness ever again quite the nakedness it is that first time, the initial gestures, hesitant and doubtful and overintense, ever again what they were, for nothing we want ever turns out quite the way we want it, love or ambition or children, and we go from disappointment to disappointment, from hope to denial, from expectation to surrender, as we grow older, thinking or coming to think that what was wrong was the wanting, so intense it hurt us, and believing or coming to believe that hope was our mistake and expectation our error, and that everything the more we want it the more difficult the having it seems to be… (pgs. 22-23)

Guy has also reviewed this novel, and his excellent post contains some notes on the author’s background and career as a screenwriter.

In Love is published by NYRB Classics. Source: personal copy. Book 4/20, #TBR20 round 2.

37 thoughts on “In Love by Alfred Hayes

  1. BookerTalk

    I’m not sure about this one either having read yours and Guys reviews. It would be interesting but only up to a point and then I’d start to get irritated if the narrator character kept going on and on about his relationships and analysing every detail

    Reply
  2. gertloveday

    I had never even heard of Alfred Hayes before reading this. I kept being reminded of someone else as I read the quotes, and it’s still teasing me. In some repects a bit like the introspection of Marias’ characters?

    Reply
    1. JacquiWine Post author

      Ooh…Hayes is a very interesting writer. He co-wrote a number of Italian neorealist films, including the Bicycle Thieves, and there was some television work, too. As for his novels, My Face for the World to See is absolutely worth considering – it’s superb.

      That’s a really interesting observation on potential similarities with Marias. It hadn’t occurred to me at all, but now you mention it there is an element of that slightly self-indulgent introspection here. And Hayes’ prose is rather meandering and meditative at times. Mind you, I didn’t love this anywhere near as much as any of the Marias novels I’ve read. It’s no ‘A Heart So White’, for instance.

      Reply
    1. JacquiWine Post author

      I enjoy a little vicarious reading as well – I’m forever window shopping and looking at what others are reading. As for In Love, I’m not sure it was quite my kind of novel, either…maybe my expectations were too high.

      Reply
  3. Alex

    Like gertloveday, it’s also the first time I’ve heard about Alfred Hayes. It’s really refreshing to read about books that weren’t published this year or are already famous!

    Reply
    1. JacquiWine Post author

      Oh, I’m glad to have introduced you to a ‘new’ author, so to speak! Hayes’ screenwriting background is fascinating – he worked with Roberto Rossellini, among others.

      I tend to read quite a few of these older titles from NRYB Classics as they seem to have a talent for picking interesting books.

      Reply
  4. Brian Joseph

    The plot and characters sound very interesting.

    I have actually not seen indecent proposal. One thing that makes this sound different is that as per your description the relationship in this book starts out as open and thus very unconventional. I would think that would change the dynamic of a story.

    Reply
    1. JacquiWine Post author

      I must admit it’s been quite a while since I watched Indecent Proposal, but I think you’re right. There’s a sense that the narrator doesn’t quite appreciate the depth of his feelings for the woman until she gets involved with Howard. In Love does feel like a more complex story than the one in Indecent Proposal, it’s certainly darker. That said, it’s always difficult to compare a novel with a film as it’s often easier to convey more nuance and subtlety through the written form.

      It’s a strange novel in some ways – my perceptions of these two characters changed a fair bit as I was reading it.

      Reply
    1. JacquiWine Post author

      Yes, the premise is great, and it’s interesting to note that Hayes’ novel pre-dates Indecent Proposal by some forty years. I’m usually fine with difficult, unpredictable characters, but I just couldn’t get my head around these two (the man, in particular). It’s one of those novels where your sympathies start to shift, and you’re not quite sure whether your being led a merry dance by the narrator. Or at least I wasn’t by the end…

      Reply
  5. kaggsysbookishramblings

    Oddly, as I started to read your review, I thought of the Simenon book, then you mentioned it. I’d not heard of Hayes before, but I’ll look out for him. Sometimes we don’t gel with the characters and that can create a problem with relating to the book – you don’t have to like them, just have an interest in them one way or another! :)

    Reply
    1. JacquiWine Post author

      It’s very much in the style of Three Bedrooms in Manhattan – I think there are clear parallels between the two novels. You know, it’s funny…I’m usually fine with flawed or unsympathetic characters, but something about the narrator did prevent me from really engaging with this novel. The writing is great — there’s a terrific section towards the end, which is difficult to discuss without revealing too many spoilers — but sometimes that isn’t quite enough.

      Reply
  6. 1streading

    I’d always assumed Hayes was an English writer – presumably entirely on the strength of him being called Alfred – so thanks for putting me right on that, This sounds like a novel I would enjoy reading but probably only if I found it lying around. My Face for the World to See sounds like it is the one worth searching out.

    Reply
    1. JacquiWine Post author

      Oh, that’s probably my fault for tagging this post with ‘US’! Strictly speaking, Hayes was British as he was born in England, but his family moved to America when he was three years old. (Alfred is a bit of a giveaway, isn’t it?) In Love, though, is very much an American novel in its setting, mood and style – I couldn’t imagine it any other way.

      If you’re interested in trying Hayes at some point (and I think you should!), My Face for the Word to See is the one to seek out. It’s very pretty devastating stuff, but it’s also absolutely superb – a novel I can see myself rereading in the future.

      Reply
  7. poppypeacockpens

    I’m certainly intrigued by the premise & the promise of unsympathetic characters and how your sympathies shifted… so it’ll go on the ‘possible’ wishlist but sounds like My Face is the better read.

    Reply
    1. JacquiWine Post author

      Yes, there are several intriguing elements here, but somehow the whole novel fell a little short of the sum of its individual parts (for me, anyway). And yes, I can’t say it often enough…My Face for the World to See is the one to seek out, especially if you’re in the mood for something bleak and devastating.

      Reply
  8. Caroline

    I think it sounds wonderful but I understand why you didn’t warm to the characters. But if it’s similar to Simenon’s novel, whcih i really loved, I might like this as well. But . . . I’ve got his other novel already so this one has to wait.

    Reply
    1. JacquiWine Post author

      It’s a good novel, and as it’s very much in the style of Three Bedrooms, there’s a very fair chance you’ll enjoy it a great deal. Maybe my expectations were a little high after My Face for the World to See. It’s good that you have that one as it’s just such a brilliant novel, I couldn’t stop thinking about it for several weeks.

      Reply
    1. JacquiWine Post author

      Oh, I read My Face for the World to See a couple of years ago before I started blogging. I agree, it’s the better of the two. I have another by Hayes on my Kindle (The Girl on the Via Flaminia), so I’ll be curious to see how it compares.

      Reply
  9. realthog

    Judging by your description, I can see very much why this made you think of Simenon. It sounds very tantalizing. I’ll keep an eye out for it. On the other hand, I have well over 1000 unread books in the house — and that’s just the fiction! — so it may be a while . . .

    Reply
    1. JacquiWine Post author

      Haha! You’ve made me feel a little better about my own piles of unread books languishing around the house! Hayes is definitely worth a look – I think you might like him, especially given his career in screenwriting.

      Reply
  10. litlove

    I’d never heard of Alfred Hayes before reading your review – though it sounds as if I should read My Face For The World To See first. But a lovely review as always, Jacqui, very fair, very honest, very clear.

    Reply
    1. JacquiWine Post author

      Thanks, Victoria. I doubt whether I would have discovered Hayes had it not been for NYRB Classics. I don’t know how they do it, but whoever picks their titles has a talent for unearthing great writers. Even though In Love wasn’t my favourite of the two, it’s still a very intriguing novel…and My Face is just superb.

      Reply
  11. Pingback: A-Z Index of Book Reviews (listed by author) | JacquiWine's Journal

  12. Scott W.

    Your review confirms the general sense I’ve had of this book, that it falls quite a bit short in comparison to Hayes’ memorable My Face for the World to See. But on the other hand, given the premise, it sounds quite a lot better than Indecent Proposal!

    Reply
    1. JacquiWine Post author

      You know, I think it’s a good novel, but it didn’t quite hit the spot for me. Maybe my expectations were too high after the sheer brilliance of My Face. I’d be very curious to hear another opinion on it, especially from someone like you or Max as you’ve got some previous experience of Hayes. I have another of his novels — The Girl on the Via Flaminia — so let’s see how I get on with that one.

      Reply
  13. Max Cairnduff

    Slightly more tempted by Three Bedrooms still. I definitely plan to read more Hayes, but probably not this one next. It sounds interesting, but not entirely successful.

    Re the narrator, he wouldn’t be the first person to ask for an open relationship for his own convenience and then find himself regretting it when his partner takes him at his word…

    Reply
    1. JacquiWine Post author

      They are very similar, Max. I’d be very curious to hear your thoughts on either of them. It’s taken me a while to write about the Hayes because I couldn’t make up my mind about it. I think it’s a good novel, but I didn’t like it as much as My Face.
      As for the narrator, yes, you’re right, although I have to say my sympathies shifted towards him as the story moved forward. It’s quite a subtle novel in many respects – I might reread it at some stage just to give it another shot.

      Reply

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