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Outline of My Lover

October 9, 2007

Outline of My Lover is a novel by Douglas A. Martin about a young man who goes off to college and falls in love with the idealized notion of a rock star. He sets out to meet this person in real life, finds him, and they date. When the relationship falters due to outside pressure and the rock star’s emotional unavailability, the main character is left reeling, unsure of his place and purpose. This novel is the narrator’s attempt to make sense out of the affair and his life. It’s a blind item and open letter rolled into a wet crepe valentine to an ex lover. Sometimes I found myself thinking the main character was too whiny and needed to move on, and my empathy seemed to lie more with the lover and not the narrator. That being said, the writing is beautiful and has an extreme forward momentum and earnestness.

Opening line: “We’re taken to a place with no roots. The house was red brick, divided into one, two, three living quarters” (1). Allegory, he is rootless, the house appears solid made of brick, but inside it is walled up, subdivided; not whole, separate pieces cobbled into a whole. “Across the street is an abandoned building” (1). It is a desolate place. Already the metaphorical family seat is described as divided and his life is unanchored and rootless. He underscores this with: “When we are trying to be a family with the new man, my mother’s new husband, we will go for rides down any and all streets we can find, looking at houses decorated inside and out with Christmas lights. It is too expensive for the electricity to do our own house” (2). The cheer and light of the holiday lights aren’t a part of their home’s environment. It is something they must seek elsewhere. They must also try to be a family, not something naturally occurring that they can fall into, but something requiring effort. The mention of homes decorated inside and out speaks of wholeness, insides that match the outer life. Enough good spirit to go around, but not in his cold, subdivided, alienating home. When he mentions his mom’s husband, it’s “the new man,” not stepfather, which speaks of further alienation from the family unit. This type of detail abounds in the writing and gives it a richness of meaning.

The story in this novel is essentially presented as a Prince Charming tale. Somebody needs rescuing. The young teen princess (in this case the male narrator) is never understood. He doesn’t fit with his surroundings. He slaves away in an unnoticed existence waiting for that prince to come along and rescue him from an inane life. Stepfather and sister may take the place of wicked stepsisters, but not so much wicked, as not understanding or non-sympathetic. In this case Prince Charming is the famous rock star that inhabits a small dusty college town of Athens, Georgia (Hmm, either Michael Stipe or Fred Schneider…?). The difference in this tale is that instead of simply waiting for prince charming, in this case the princess intentionally moves to the prince’s town, gets a job where the prince frequents, and hangs out at clubs, waiting for the prince to show up.

The irony of the novel once the two are together is that the main character and the lover never come across as truly interacting. “I can’t be possessive. What I can get from him must be all I need. Busy man. He says he is being completely honest” (67). They are two people sharing the same gravitational pull, but they don’t come together as equals and it feels like each is only sharing half the conversation. They are still living in separate worlds that only appear to coincide. Is it really a romance or is it only in their minds, a trick of framing and desires? For some reason their relationship reminded me of watching experimental animation. I remember seeing this film from the fifties. I forget what it was called, but it was just a series of light circles on a dark field. The circles would get larger then smaller, pulsing, then briefly touching, almost merging before pulling away and starting the dance again. The routine was set against overtly sentimental syrupy music. It transformed the dots into furtive lovers, without them they were separate entities, anthropomorphized blips of random pattern. Like the dots, were the lovers actually coming together, or was it some artifact of an unknown syrupy soundtrack of their own? If the soundtrack collapsed was there anything there but inanimate circles in proximity?

The novel takes the form of stream of conscience diaristic musings as the main character tries to make sense of his affair with the rock star. The way it’s structured, one sees the musician almost as a father surrogate for the main character. The raw need for someone to come and fill this place in his heart is a clear result of gaps in his early life. This particular man is what was lacking in his life. Meet the rock star and he will metaphorically plug up the hole. This Prince Charming is presented as a solution to carry him away from the lack and confusion illustrated up to that point. He offers support, authority, financial stability, glamour, and meaning in addition to also being his lover. Where does he turn when the lover has moved on? That is the real question this novel explores: Who are you when something that defined you leaves? Was it ever even there?

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One comment

  1. i have just closed the book,read it in a couple of hours. honestly i have to say i have only bought it due to the fact that it is (seems to be) about michael stipe. there are too many things leading readers to this conclusion that you just have to imagine stipe while reading it. anyway, the book is touching, kind of a self-help therapy. the poor narrator is too obsessed with his lover that he completely forgets to think of himself. the lover has done a lot for the narrator and ended the relationship in a relatively nice way. i am on the lovers side,even though i fully understand the narrators feelings and hurt. but,well,everybody hurts and we have to get used to it.
    looking forward to reading other martins books as he has now put all of this out of his mind. good book,really. little bit too short,but good indeed.



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