Raymond and Hannah

Raymond and Hannah

2.6 3
by Stephen Marche

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Meeting as strangers at a party, Raymond and Hannah stumble into a one-night stand with unexpected consequences. Together, they share a single, magical week before Hannah leaves for Jerusalem, where she is to spend nine months at an orthodox yeshiva learning Torah among students who disapprove of intermarriage. Raymond, a graduate student researching love in


Meeting as strangers at a party, Raymond and Hannah stumble into a one-night stand with unexpected consequences. Together, they share a single, magical week before Hannah leaves for Jerusalem, where she is to spend nine months at an orthodox yeshiva learning Torah among students who disapprove of intermarriage. Raymond, a graduate student researching love in Richard Burton’s Anatomy of Melancholy, struggles with his loneliness and Hannah’s increasing religiosity. Unable to make a clean break, they’re forced to try their insoluble problems in the city without solution, Jerusalem.

Editorial Reviews

Meghan Daum
This is a slim novel, constructed on so small a scale that it occasionally comes close to suffocating from the postmodern fragmentation that is its chief stylistic conceit. Marche, who's only 29 years old, tends not to write fully rendered scenes, and instead lists the key players and events as if dictating notes to himself. But his minimalism is one of form, not content. The language he uses is so dazzling, so unsentimental, that the bones of the story become almost irrelevant. Besides, Marche isn't interested in telling an epic story. He's trying to sort through a series of contradictory moments over nine months in the lives of two people who, if they ''were a cocktail . . . would be two parts absence, one part presence.'' In so doing, he has produced a work that is both beautiful and confusing. In other words, an honest love story.
— The New York Times
Publishers Weekly
In his startling debut, Marche offers up a rare hybrid: the page-turner prose poem. Raymond and Hannah meet at a party in Toronto, and what might have been a one-night stand blossoms into something more enduring. In lyrical paragraphs labeled in the margins (e.g., "Lost virginities"), Marche maps out their five-day love affair with bursts of confession, philosophical musing and notes on the infinitesimal shifts of mood between kisses. On Raymond and Hannah's second day together, "The afternoon is a labyrinthine flex of joints twisted around each other in a variety of blisses." But at the end of the week, Hannah leaves Canada and her WASPy lover for a previously scheduled nine-month stay in Jerusalem. Their e-mail exchanges about their respective cities and pursuits-Raymond is writing a doctoral dissertation on Robert Burton's The Anatomy of Melancholy while Hannah studies Torah at an Orthodox yeshiva-don't necessarily forward the plot, but rather reveal how little two people can really tell each other. In between their letters, the novel offers utterly convincing glimpses of both characters' lives. Especially full-bodied is the evocation of Hannah's struggle to understand her Jewish identity, not just through study but through the city of Jerusalem itself. In this lushly romantic book, love between Jew and atheist gentile resembles the divided city, simultaneously impossible and actual. Agent, Jacqueline Kaiser, Westwood Creative Artists (Toronto). (May) Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
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 isseparated 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.
From the Publisher
"A marvel of exhilarating expression and literary economy . . . I don’t think I’ve ever had better vicarious sex — certainly not in an English Canadian novel. This is sex as voracity, fuelled by the birth of volcanic, insatiable love. Marche describes almost no specifics, yet burns up the pages with need and joy."
The Globe and Mail

"It’s fair to ask what a love story might look like in the 21st century. Can one be written in our cynical age? The answer — a defintive yes — can be found in Raymond and Hannah, a smart and sexy first novel . . . Love, it seems, is not a race to the finish but a complicated ongoing struggle to achieve a union with another, body and soul — a remarkable insight from a young writer."
The Toronto Star

"Remarkable . . . Marche has given himself the freedom to switch perspective, voice, tone and form . . . an approach perfectly suited to a love story that’s about contradiction and unresolvable conflict . . . [a] deft melding of the spiritual and the sensual, the poetic and the prosaic … Raymond and Hannah can’t help but recall the young Leonard Cohen."
The Gazette (Montreal)

"Erotic, passionate . . . The writing is spare, yet pithy and by the end of it all, Marche’s pair of lovers become well-defined, evolved characters whose story plays out compellingly."
The Chronicle-Herald (Halifax)

"Stephen Marche’s debut novel, bearing all the hallmarks of Leonard Cohen’s influence — poetic language, urban hipsterism, explicit sexuality, Jewish philosophy — is a rare creature, then. And judging by the book’s many strengths, it’s perhaps a loss to our literature that more young writers haven’t followed in Mr. Cohen’s footsteps. . . . Marche’s writing is both muscularly clear and infused with powerful poetic rhythms. . ."
Quill & Quire

The Globe and Mail

“The language [Marche] uses is so dazzling, so unsentimental. . . . He has produced a work that is both beautiful and confusing. In other words, an honest love story.”
The New York Times Book Review

“The novel offers utterly convincing glimpses of both characters’ lives. Especially full-bodied is the evocation of Hannah’s struggle to understand her Jewish identity, not just through study but through the city of Jerusalem itself. In this lushly romantic book, love between Jew and atheist gentile resembles the divided city, simultaneously impossible and actual.”
Publishers Weekly

Product Details

Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Publication date:
Product dimensions:
5.50(w) x 8.08(h) x 0.57(d)

Read an Excerpt

I must bring home a man. Sadly, only the bookish will avail to me tonight since there are just academics at Paul's parties, dust to dust to dust. The early fall light is gorgeous over the iris skirt on the bed, and change the sheets, Hannah dearest, just on the off chance.

Six days minus Aletheia, and at least five sexless weeks before we finally ended. Why you've been eating so much. All that cheese. All the beef. Fat and greasy and grubby, the stained shirt. Why you've been reading so much. Ha.

The sunset has the range of shade that a thick cover of pollution produces as a consolation for city night lacking stars. Violet greens, pink navies, ruddy oranges flood Hannah's attic apartment through a half-dozen skylights. Though Raymond lives in a basement, the weird light manages to startle him, too. August is coming to an end, and so is the evening. There will be parties everywhere tonight where people go to meet strangers who want to meet strangers. There will be a backyard crammed with candles in glass orbs and plenty of booze and a crowd.

If you are male, be five-foot-ten and weigh one hundred and sixty pounds. Be light-haired with blue eyes. Try to have a longish face, and be twenty-five. Your cheeks should be stubbled, and your back should be stooped from carrying bookbags exclusively on your right shoulder. You should also be a candidate for a doctorate in English literature on a seventeenth-century prose writer, preferably Robert Burton. A blue shirt with brown cords is the appropriate dress. In short, be Raymond.

If you are female, be five-foot-six and weigh one hundred and thirty pounds. Have dark eyes to set off your long dark hair. Wear nolipstick. Have two grey hairs already, though you are only twenty-four, and have slightly spaced teeth if at all possible. Wear a tight black shirt and a purple, tasteful skirt. Be smiling. Be Hannah.

Bring wine priced between nine and fourteen dollars.

Shouting over shouting, everyone in the packed kitchen is bubbling up. Young flesh senses the long winter coming. It's as if the party is one big talk, springing from distinct places in gushes of the same laughter.

Hannah is pouring champagne into a clear plastic cup.

"Champagne," Raymond says, "oh dear."

"Want some?"

Raymond rustles through a cabinet and comes up with a coffee mug and a line. "Everything is permitted now the champagne is out."

She pours his Santa Claus mug full of bubbly stuff. "It does make the night more interesting."

Where to get the best pork dumplings. The merits of echinacea. The poetics of automobile advertising. Che Guevara. The systems of South American ant colonies. Allergies to nickel.

"What are you here for?" Hannah asks Raymond.

"What am I here for? I was invited."

"You know Paul."

He nods. "And you?"

Hannah sips her champagne. "I'm here to meet men."

A moment's pause, while Raymond casts a critical gaze across the offerings of the room. "What about Jim?"

"Which one's Jim?"

He points to a hippie leaning on the radiator across the room, a large-bearded man in jeans and a checked flannel shirt whose laughter drunkenly booms like dropped timpani over the light chatter. "I realize that I've just ruined it by pointing, but maybe it's all for the best. It wouldn't have worked out with Jim anyway. He's married or something. How about Roger?" He bugs his eyes in the direction of a man in overalls. Hannah looks, arching her elegant neck to see the scruffy poseur affecting boredom beside the refrigerator. "The one in overalls. His name's Roger. Actually I have no idea who he is. I made up the name."

She frowns. "That one's not bad. Excuse me." She reaches for the champagne and refills their cups.

"My name's Raymond," he says.

"Hannah," she replies.

They touch cups, and Raymond again scans the room, apparently displeased with its contents. "The pickings here really are a bit slim. I suggest we inspect the other rooms to see if this is all the night has to offer."

Raymond and Hannah don't look at other men. It so happens that a series of prints from the Yellow Book is hanging on the walls of Paul's apartment. As they wander, Raymond gives elaborate explanations of the nineteenth-century etchings. The final images are in the bedroom, low above a futon overflowing with coats. The room is almost quiet; they are alone.

At least he doesn't talk about himself all the time, but he does talk a lot, doesn't he?

Not indirect. Not dressed like a whore. Not dressed great. Not desperate. Distinctly not ugly. Not an academic. Not society. Not unintelligent. Not poor. Better not drink too much. Waste not. Want not.

"It's very beautiful," Hannah says, stooping to level her eye with the picture of Salome inspecting John the Baptist's head. "But you haven't found me a man to take home."

Raymond, standing, stares down at her crouched back. "It's so hard to tell at parties like this. One stranger is as strange as the next. But Hannah, let us go back to the party to find you a man."

Hannah sips her drink, and rises. "I do need more champagne."

"What are you writing about?" Hannah asks. They are turned toward each other, leaning on the kitchen table now crammed with empties, full ashtrays and assorted garbage.

"Robert Burton. The Anatomy of Melancholy."

"You're doing a Ph.D. on melancholy. You're an expert on melancholy."

"I know nothing about melancholy. That's why I study Burton. Can we please stop talking about this? I'm boring myself over here."

"How do you know Paul then?"

"I knew his family back in Halifax."

"When were you in Halifax?"

"Look at him." Paul is slouched drunkenly against a banister on the other side of the apartment. "Looks like a football player, right?" She admits that he does fit the profile: six-four, two-forty, built. "His whole family are aesthetes of the highest order. Frail little English people. His brother, last time I saw him, was wearing a black crushed-velvet suit complete with green carnation."

She is giggling over the rim of her cup. He takes a sip, a small one.

"It's all rebellion. Paul got a football scholarship to university. It crushed his mother. He's the one white sheep in the family."

Her smile opens to a laugh, and she throws her hair back. Her crooked teeth are lovely. "Outside?" he offers.

They go out for air and find, in a corner of the yard darkened by wind-extinguished candles, two fold-out lawn chairs. Other guests heading in their direction turn aside at the sight of two strangers, probably exchanging secrets in the dark, in the garden.

While he is asking her if she makes it a habit to ask strangers to find her strangers, pigeon shit splatters on the shoulder of his jacket.

"Oh, honey," she says, laughing.

Raymond excuses himself as decorously as a maître-d'. When he returns, he has washed the pigeon shit from his shoulder, and the fold-out chair, the seat beside the woman named Hannah, is still free.

"Isn't there a saying that if a pigeon shits on you it brings good luck?" she asks.

"I've never heard that."

"Well, if it does you must tell me."

He looks up nervously into the branches overhead. "You don't want to move, do you? No, that's too stupid. Like lightning right?"

"You were asking me a question."


"The answer is that yes, I have in fact asked other men to find me men, but neither finder nor found were strangers."

"But that is more in the nature of reconnaissance. Not the same thing."

"It's close enough, Raymond."

"It's not close enough, Hannah. But I have a similar tale." He pauses to fix the telling before he tells.

Secrets about sex. Both Raymond and Hannah recognize that the only way to pick up is to exchange secrets of a sexual nature. What other women do and do not do. Male fears and disgusts. Questions of etiquette: flirtation, penetration, deviation. Betray the past bit by bit. Kiss to tell to kiss. A woman who would never lie down. A man who always, without fail, brought fruit to bed. Strawberries. Pineapples. In a blessed place, it would be enough to describe a memorable orgasm. Instead, in this fallen world, conversation with potential lovers wobbles, searching always for the lower, more dangerous music.

Subtle intrusions of gentle wind extinguish the candles one by one. Their endings keep time more accurately than clocks. The dark presses in on Raymond and Hannah's stories, and their stories rise up, one by one, like lighted candles. The sounds of the party inside drift past them and are gone.

Meet the Author

Stephen Marche, 27, has published short fiction in Descant, The New Quarterly, and Event, and his story “Garrison Creek,” originally published in The Malahat Review, was shortlisted for the 2002 O. Henry Prize. Raymond and Hannah is his first novel.

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Raymond and Hannah 3.3 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 4 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Guest More than 1 year ago
Having side bars and parallel story structure were not enough to save this story. The story was incredibly predictable, unexciting, and how the book was going to end I could tell from miles away.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I don't love the storyline, but I love the creative way the author is presenting the story. I like the parallel structure and the sidebars in the margins that use a few words to describe the perspective or a observance. Very creative.
Guest More than 1 year ago
A beguiling first novel exploring the joys and vicissitudes of love is offered to listeners in a meritorious dramatization. The voices of Raymond and Hannah are eloquent, eponymous and anguished as each pursues a dream. Hannah, a very modern young woman, is about to leave for Jerusalem where she intends to explore her Jewishness. She has enrolled in a demanding 9 month study of the Torah. However, a week before her departure she goes to a party where she meets Raymond, an intelligent fellow who is procrastinating the writing of his doctoral thesis on Robert Burton. He is a Gentile. The attraction between the two is immediate and passionate. What both had probably thought would be a one-nighter lengthens into a week long affair. Loathe to part, they resolve to continue their relationship through emails and telephone calls. They have much to share as Hannah not only probes the Torah but also becomes acquainted with the City of Jerusalem, and Raymond finds insights in his examination of Burton's 'The Anatomy of Melancholy.' For this listener the crux of the story is whether or not Hannah and Raymond will continue to feel strongly about each other or will miles and cultural differences prove to be too much. Listen and discover how fine an audio book can be. - Gail Cooke