LONELINESS AND ROMANCE
I just finished reading Less, the 2018 Pulitzer Prize winning novel by Andrew Sean Greer. He was asked in an interview for The Guardian, “You’re an identical twin. How has that shaped your perception of identity?” He answered in part, “I am used to being with another person in the world, so it makes it lonelier when I’m not with him.” This is the theme that struck me most when following the life of Arthur Less, the novel’s protagonist: the theme of loneliness. The novel has been described as a tragic comic story, a same-sex love story, a satire of the American abroad, a bittersweet meditation on love and aging, a romantic comedy, a satirical comedy, and more. I see it as a serious study of the fear of being alone—which here means growing old without someone to love … which is an underlying theme in each of my own novels.
In my novel, Tayla of the Golden Spread, the main supporting character, Aunt Maureen, is an elderly and lonely widow, living by herself, unable to find living-with-meaning after the loss of both her husband and her son. She is growing older and lonelier, with no hope of finding love in her life again. Unexpectedly—perhaps by divine intervention—she is called upon to take on the guardianship of her adolescent niece. This new relationship and responsibility changes her, by bringing love back into her life. Not the love of a man, but love for her niece, Tayla, whom she must guide through the girl’s struggling coming-of-age romance with her beau, Jacques.
In my novel, Little Alice Landergin, the female protagonist, Julia Landergin, is forty-eight- years-old, childless and lonely. She lost her fiancé to World War I and soon afterwards buried her new husband after a tragic accident. She now lives alone in a big, empty farmhouse, loveless and without thought or hope of finding love a third time. Unexpectedly—perhaps by divine intervention—she discovers she has two little nieces, whose parents and grandparents have died in a horrible automobile accident. As their only known relative, she feels obligated to take them in and raise them. Through them, she finds love again. She had always wanted children to love, and now she has two. And through them, she meets Major Curry, a widowed World War II veteran, who likewise is growing old alone, with no hope of finding love again. When Julia and Major Curry meet through the girls, they find the mutual possibility of not having to grow old lonely and without someone to love.
In my novel, Beth’s Story: A Runaway Bride, the protagonists are each lonely in their own way. Beth is eighteen and is running away from a feared life of loneliness in an arranged marriage to a middle-aged widowed millionaire. The man wants her only to breed—he needs a son to inherit his millions. She doesn’t feel loved by her father, who is in effect selling her, to settle his debts and avoid losing his ranch. Twenty-six-year-old Silas has recently been mustered out of the Army, after almost a decade of service. He is suffering PTSD from his participation in the Korean War. He is lonely—fearing that he will be alone the rest of his life … alone because of his endless and terrifying nightmares from what he saw and did in Korea. When Beth meets Silas, she finds hope—hope that she can marry a handsome young man and live a true married life, with love instead of loneliness. When Silas meets Beth, he starts to laugh again, and slowly begins to lose his nightmares and overcome PTSD. With this silly and immature young girl, he finds an unusual romance, which starts taking away his fear of being alone the rest of his life.
In my novel, Nadya: The Restoration of a Flying Tiger, the protagonists likewise are each lonely in their own way. Nadya lost her extended family, except for her brother, to Hitler’s invasion of Poland in 1939. She and her brother immigrated after the war. She is too busy trying to build a new life as a nurse to have time to think about love and marriage and children. She lives with her brother and his family, but feels completely alone. She is in her mid-twenties, with no hope of finding love and an end to loneliness. Howie is an ex-Flying Tiger pilot, a veteran of the wars in China—World War II and then the Chinese Civil War. He lost his Chinese wife and his two children to Mao’s Communist army. He was flying for Chiang Kai-shek’s Nationalists, who were defeated in the war. He has come home an alcoholic, who is suffering from PTSD and from despair. He has lost the love of his life as well as his children, and is suicidal—he decides to escape his loneliness by killing himself. When Nadya and Howie meet in the emergency room of the hospital where she is a nurse—after he has unsuccessfully tried to commit suicide—they fall in love. He finds a reason to live. She finds a reason to hope. Both find the possibility of escaping loneliness.
For me in my novels, loneliness and romance go together. That’s why I liked Greer’s Less.
Throughout Arthur Less’s odyssey around the world—through Mexico, France, Italy, Germany, Morocco, India and Japan—he is looking for a way to escape his loneliness and his fear of turning fifty with nothing and no one. But like in a Hallmark movie, it was evident from the start that in the end, Arthur would somehow find happiness—a way out of loneliness … through romance.