What do Marilyn Monroe, love, a mid-40s male high school teacher, a smart, beautiful, but less-than-perfect woman, and, well, you, have in common?
The answer: more than you might imagine.
And although that answer will be different if you are a man or a woman, and depending on whether you’re attracted to women or men, it has had a riveting presence in most of our lives.
My first novel, The Possibility of Dreaming on a Night Without Stars—which has just been reborn as an eBook—sets out to explore that very question and a slew of other tough and heartfelt questions about love.
Over this past year, I got to do something few writers ever have a chance to do: rewrite a published novel. And in doing so, I found myself re-immersed in the dazzling and troubled world of one of the last century’s iconic, “perfect” women and the more quotidian but equally troubled world of a fictional man. (Of course, Marilyn Monroe herself said that MM was but a fiction, a role she forced herself to play over and over again.)
The Possibility of Dreaming is about men and the search for love. Years ago, it struck me that D.H. Lawrence’s great book of the 1920s, Women in Love, had been terribly mistitled; it seemed much more about men in love or, at least trying to be in love, struggling with love, searching for love, and sustaining love.
The thing is, too many men have too long pretended that a preoccupation with love should be women’s business. Romantic comedies get labeled chick flicks. Too many men are raised to distance themselves from feelings and so don’t learn an authentic language of emotions. They find it difficult to express and meet their deepest emotional needs and too many don’t have sufficient empathy to fully sense the emotional needs of others.
As a result, the hard work of nurturing relationships too often gets left exclusively to women and too often is disparaged with words like, “why do we have to talk so much about it!” I wanted nothing to do with this and set out to write an entertaining but also thoughtful novel that had a man in the central place trying to figure out love.
After all, far too many men (just like far too many women) stumble miserably when it comes to love. At least sometimes in our lives, we find ourselves in relationships based on false promises or superficial images of perfection. Or relationships that gnaw away at us because she or he is far different from the manufactured images that surround us in movies and advertising; or which lack trust or the deeper connection that we crave but perhaps can’t articulate. Or relationships that trip over old baggage that sits forever in the front hall. Or, simply, relationships that get mired in stale patterns, routine, and boredom. It’s all made worse because our culture encourages a mall version of love where you shop for the attributes you supposedly require in someone to love.
I don’t want to give away the plot, but let me just say The Possibility of Dreaming on a Night Without Stars starts in the early spring with a story from a crazy old hitchhiker who says that not so long ago he saw Marilyn Monroe in a farmhouse somewhere in Ohio. As bizarre as this might be, the tale plants itself in Eli Schuman’s mind and won’t let go. The more he thinks about Marilyn, the more obsessed he becomes. Off he goes in search of this icon of the perfect woman.
Eli is actually involved in two summer-long searches. You see, the divorced Eli has been long searching for a perfect woman for himself. Now, you and I know that any of us, male or female, looking for the perfect woman or the perfect man is in for a perfectly miserable time. Eli, though, has yet to figure this out.
It’s when he meets a woman who unexpectedly challenges his idea of perfection that Eli’s deepest journey really begins. As my editors at Viking/Penguin wrote when they first published The Possibility of Dreaming on a Night Without Stars, ”It is a road of longing, elation, hopefulness, despair, reckless abandonment and ultimately, an almost delirious rush towards self-discovery.”
As Eli (and I expect all of us learn at some point), love isn’t just discovered, prepackaged in perfection, but is made. That a life together is where two people have already been and not what lies in store. That the future is but a commitment not to be consumed by fears that someone better might come along.
(The Possibility of Dreaming on a Night Without Stars is available for $4.99 as an eBook for Kindle, iPad/iBook, Kobo, Nook, and other eReaders from Shopkeeper Press.)