One of the great benefits of visiting festivals such as Hay’s, is that you find yourself wanting to make the most of the days, booking fillers at the eleventh hour and attending something not normally obvious for your tastes. As a result, you can discover new authors and new books, stretching your reading tentacles and enjoying what you find.
So it was that I discovered Nick Taussig this year. He was at Hay talking about his second novel Don Don, but I’ve read his first Love and Mayhem, which is not a crime novel but an exploration of the meaning of love and the impact it can have on us, as well as the destruction it can cause. I read somewhere that Taussig wrote this novel following the breakdown of a relationship he’d been in and that this was an exploration of feelings for the author too. Where women retain mystery for Taussig, men still remain a mystery to me, so I was on the look out for some enlightenment here. What I read previously, I ran by a male friend. "Taussig maintains that people think that men are only after sex, but that’s not true and it’s based on emotional need" said I. Without any hesitation, I had the response: "That’s true." So what do we find in this début novel that has been described as "…absolutely stunning…"; "a visceral a tale of love, sex and human emotion as you are ever likely to read…"; "…so full of insight and genuine innovation in form and content…"; "…a solid and emotionally mature piece…"?
In a nutshell (using the synopsis from Taussig’s site): Love and Mayhem "tells the story of the love affair between Jack Stoltz and Catherine Ramirez. A rather shy, intense and introspective man, his desire for her is strong and abrupt. She, his opposite, is wild, sensual and mercurial.
Theirs is an obsessive love, ardent and intense while dangerously self-destructive in its all-consuming design. When at last their love is realised, it exists as a delicate and fragile entity, constantly threatening to be consumed by its own intensity and their own deeply buried but explosive anxieties.
Jack’s encounter with a destitute and desperate stranger – a man who believes there’s no purpose in looking for love in a selfish, violent and hypocritical world – threatens to destroy not only Jack and Catherine’s love for one another but their very different identities."
Catherine is, at first, a reluctant party to the relationship. Protecting herself, based on her history, it’s all she knows when it comes to behaviour. Jack suddenly finds himself more open to a passionate relationship than he might have imagined previously. He finds some frustration in Catherine’s response and wants her to be as emotionally involved as he is. But for such a wild and passionate opening, the novel covers the relationship for the longer term. This is not a mere fling, but a search by two people to find a way to remain together, against many odds.
Catherine eventually breaks down and opens up to Jack, moving their relationship into another realm. But Jack has also become involved with a homeless man and this man’s view on life and love threatens to de-stabilise Jack and his ideas and values.
It’s a very emotional novel and quite intense. When it comes to the male-female relationship, it’s also "no holds barred"; you will be reading about both in the bedroom, the kitchen and the bathroom. The prose is great and moves along with a good speed. The ending caught me by surprise and caused an emotional response of my own.
I’m not sure I did learn that much more about men from reading this novel; but I did learn that their sense of true intimacy may derive from the act of sex, leading to the sense of emotional intimacy that a woman can feel, without the sex. Catherine confused me a little on this score, as she came across as more "male" in the earlier chapters. But then, her emotional remoteness, which frustrated Jack, was also her armour and protection from being hurt. So perhaps the confusion was Catherine’s, well drawn, and not mine.
It takes a lot to entice me out from my own comfort zone of crime fiction into the general and literary world. But I’d like to say that this début novel is indeed stunning. Yes, it is visceral. And above all else it is also an emotionally mature piece. The link above takes you to the hardback version – I thought the Amazon reviews would be helpful – but it’s also now in PB.
I had not heard of Revolver Books before reading this novel, but they do a great job. I have to say that I did not like the cover however; it was too modern, too online play station game in depiction. But it’s the content that counts, and in Love and Mayhem you have a great novel, so please give it a try.