Raymond and Hannah

Raymond and Hannah

2.6 3
by Stephen Marche
     
 

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From a new Canadian talent who will sweep you off your feet, a love story about a man and a woman irresistibly drawn to each other despite the impediments of geography and culture.

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

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Overview

From a new Canadian talent who will sweep you off your feet, a love story about a man and a woman irresistibly drawn to each other despite the impediments of geography and culture.

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 Robert Burton’s Anatomy of Melancholy, struggles with his loneliness and Hannah’s increasing religiosity.

As their separation comes to an end, Hannah questions whether she can live with a man who is not of her people, and Raymond’s hunger for human intimacy reaches a crisis point. He cheats on her; she begins to practice the Commandments. Still, neither can tolerate the other’s absence. Unable to make a clean break, they’re forced to try their insoluble problems in the city without solution, Jerusalem.

Acute and closely observed, Raymond and Hannah captures with gripping precision the thrill of new romance, the bitter doubt of longing, the inescapable urgings of love.

Excerpt from Raymond and Hannah

Preliminaries

“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 he 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 check flannel shirt whose laughter drunkenly booms like dropped tympani 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 over to the table 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.”

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Editorial Reviews

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

“Seductive.”
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

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
The infected are back, and with them the core creative forces behind the surprise international hit 28 Days Later, as director Juan Carlos Fresnadillo picks up the torch originally sparked by Danny Boyle to offer a true rarity in the world of horror sequels -- a film that nearly eclipses its predecessor on all counts. While die-hard Boyle fans may initially balk at this sequel due to the fact that the visionary director opted not to reprise his role at the helm, a quick glance at the credits reveals that not only did he remain onboard as executive producer, but original producer Andrew Macdonald, original writer Alex Garland, original editor Chris Gill, and even original composer John Murphy -- whose swelling score effectively drives home the emotion of the smaller, quieter moments while seamlessly sweeping the viewer up in the action scenes -- all saw fit to remain on board in order to keep the machine running smoothly. Throw into the mix a promising young director whose debut feature Intacto drew impressive reviews from international critics, and you have the perfect recipe for a sequel that impressively maintains the aesthetics and intimate feel of the original while subtly expanding on the mythology in a manner that, while impossible to discuss without resorting to spoilers, feels both fluid and organic. Most fans of the original will admit that while they do indeed like the film it does have its fair share of problems -- a reality that Boyle himself seemed to acknowledge while laughingly dismissing some of his more far-fetched ideas in the DVD extras -- and though the sequel too has a handful of eyebrow-raising issues, the overall result is a thinking person's "zombie apocalypse" flick that maintains an impressive emotional core while never losing sight of its genre roots. As a filmmaker Fresnadillo's abilities may not yet be honed to the fine point that Boyle's were by the time he took on the infected, though for his sophomore outing the Goya-winning director does display an impressive ability to conjure convincing performances from his players; Robert Carlyle in particular hits all the right notes as a survivor of the original outbreak whose fate is sealed by a particularly reprehensible act of cowardice, with Mackintosh Muggleton and Imogen Poots always convincing as his skeptical and fiercely independent children. Whereas Fresnadillo could be accused of relying too much on the eye-straining grand mal school of camera jostling when things take a turn for the worst and the infection reemerges, it's hard to argue that the technique effectively conveys the chaos that characters trapped between trigger-happy snipers and teeth-gnashing ragers would be feeling as bullets whizzed by their heads and adrenaline-fueled cannibals storm the streets killing anything that moves. Even when his technique is more restrained, however, Fresnadillo's uncanny ability to make viewer believe they have a grasp on the situation before pulling back to reveal that things aren't quite what they seem goes a long way in driving home the disorienting volatility of such an explosive scenario. In terms of screenwriting Fresnadillo (along with collaborators Enrique Lopez Lavigne, Jesus Olmo, and {|Rowan Joffe|}) do occasionally rely too much on exposition, though that fairly minor shortcoming is ultimately offset by the creation of characters that are identifiable and sympathetic, and unrelentingly tense situations that truly fray the nerves. Ever since {|Night of the Living Dead|} "zombie apocalypse" films have been rife with political subtext, and while it will be clear to many precisely what the screenwriters are getting at when the new arrivals pull into an eerily quiet London where U.S. soldiers stand at the ready on every street corner, 28 Weeks Later refuses to go for the obvious. The military forces in charge of reestablishing society more aren't evil, self-serving occupiers as much as they are inept, well-intending protectors who are ultimately consumed by a situation they just can't wrap their heads around. The subtle commentary on life within a "surveillance society," while never really explored in such detail, also provides compelling food for thought. In the end {|28 Weeks Later|} is a film that's likely to be as polarizing for many viewers as it's predecessor was due to its outspoken politics and unique experimentation with genre standards, yet for those seeking out a stripped down summer frightener that doesn't take three hours to make its point, impressively expands on the ideas of the original while upping the scale and terror ante, and actually attempts to stimulate thought rather than insulting the viewer's intelligence, there's quite a bit to like about this vicious little summer screamer.
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.

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Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780385661249
Publisher:
Doubleday Canada Limited
Publication date:
12/01/2005
Pages:
224
Product dimensions:
5.50(w) x 8.20(h) x 0.70(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 no lipstick. 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.”

“Yes.”

“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.

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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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