Opening lines hold the power to be most forceful and potent. They can either whirl you in, enthuse you with their boldness or leave you be, dispirited and uninterested. The following line opened the book, enthralling me, leaving me utterly spellbound.
“Later!” The word, the voice, the attitude. I’d never heard anyone use “later” to say goodbye before. It sounded harsh, curt, and dismissive, spoken with the veiled indifference of people who may not care to see or hear from you again. It is the first thing I remember about him, and I can hear it still today. Later!
The book was an aesthetic and sensual treat. Highly recommended!
Here’s a selection of my favourite passages from the book, divided chapter wise.
If Not Later, When?
- Did his heart jolt when he saw me walk into a room? I doubted it.
- His one-word send-off: brisk, bold, and blunted—take your pick, he couldn’t be bothered which.
- You could never stare long enough but needed to keep staring to find out why you couldn’t.
- But there was something at once chilling and off-putting in the sudden distance that crept between us in the most unexpected moments. It was almost as though he were doing it on purpose; feeding me slack, and more slack, and then yanking away any semblance of fellowship
- Not a fire of passion, not a ravaging fire, but something paralyzing, like the fire of cluster bombs that suck up the oxygen around them and leave you panting because you’ve been kicked in the gut and a vacuum has ripped up every living lung tissue and dried your mouth, and you hope nobody speaks, because you can’t talk, and you pray no one asks you to move, because your heart is clogged and beats so fast it would sooner spit out shards of glass than let anything else flow through its narrowed chambers
- Is this why people say “maybe” when they mean “yes,” but hope you’ll think it’s “no” when all they really mean is, Please, just ask me once more, and once more after that?
- Only once during his very first few days did I get a sense that this willful but accommodating, laid-back, water-over-my-back, unflappable, unfazed twenty-four-year-old who was so heedlessly okay with so many things in life was, in fact, a thoroughly alert, cold, sagacious judge of character and situations
- “If you look at him when you’re speaking, he always looks away, he’s not listening, he’s just itching to say things he’s rehearsed while you were speaking and wants to say before he forgets them.”
- How I loved the way he repeated what I myself had just repeated. It made me think of a caress, or of a gesture, which happens to be totally accidental the first time but becomes intentional the second time and more so yet the third
- Later! always left a sharp aftertaste to what until then may have been a warm, heart-to-heart moment. Later! didn’t close things neatly or allow them to trail off. It slammed them shut.
- Seeing him and thinking he’d join us for dinner tonight only to hear his peremptory Esco taught me there are certain wishes that must be clipped like wings off a thriving butterfly.
- What I didn’t realize was that wanting to test desire is nothing more than a ruse to get what we want without admitting that we want it
- the pawn that has become so vital to king and queen that it is now master of the board.
- get to know people, find out for myself why others are so necessary in life and not just foreign bodies to be sidled up to
- The fear never went away. I woke up to it, watched it turn to joy when I heard him shower in the morning and knew he’d be downstairs with us for breakfast, only to watch it curdle when, rather than have coffee, he would dash through the house and right away set to work in the garden
- It made me hate myself for feeling so hapless, so thoroughly invisible, so smitten, so callow. Just say something, just touch me, Oliver. Look at me long enough and watch the tears well in my eyes. Knock at my door at night and see if I haven’t already left it ajar for you. Walk inside. There’s always room in my bed.
- Perhaps we were friends first and lovers second. But then perhaps this is what lovers are
- I was treading water, trying neither to drown nor to swim to safety, just staying in place, because here was the truth—even if I couldn’t speak the truth, or even hint at it, yet I could swear it lay around us, the way we say of a necklace we’ve just lost while swimming: I know it’s down there somewhere. If he knew, if he only knew that I was giving him every chance to put two and two together and come up with a number bigger than infinity.
- “I’m not wise at all. I told you, I know nothing. I know books, and I know how to string words together—it doesn’t mean I know how to speak about the things that matter most to me.”
- The light of my eyes, I said, light of my eyes, light of the world, that’s what you are, light of my life. I didn’t know what light of my eyes meant, and part of me wondered where on earth had I fished out such claptrap, but it was nonsense like this that brought tears now
- stop going to the back garden, stop spying, stop heading to town at night, wean myself a bit at a time each day, like an addict, one day, one hour, one minute, one slop-infested second after the other. It could be done. I knew there was no future in this
- as though it had happened to another me in some other life that was not too different from my own, but removed enough to make the few seconds that kept us apart seem like light-years away
- this avoidance, which gave every indication of drawing us apart, was, instead, a perfectly synchronized moment of intimacy which neither of us wished to dispel
- By shouting his words I was fleshing them out and giving them longer life, as though they had a life of their own now, a longer and louder life that no one could govern, like the life of echoes once they’ve bounced off the cliffs
- People who read are hiders. They hide who they are. People who hide don’t always like who they are
- Part of me still enjoyed luxuriating in this newfound, beneficent wave of indifference, verging on distaste, for Oliver that both pleased me and told me how fickle I ultimately was
- Turn back. Who knows what you’ll find once you’re in that room. Not the tonic of discovery but the pall of despair when disenchantment has all but shamed every ill-stretched nerve in your body
- From this moment on, I thought, from this moment on—I had, as I’d never before in my life, the distinct feeling of arriving somewhere very dear, of wanting this forever, of being me, me, me, me, and no one else, just me, of finding in each shiver that ran down my arms something totally alien and yet by no means unfamiliar, as if all this had been part of me all of my life and I’d misplaced it and he had helped me find
- because what awaited was not going to be much better, though I knew I couldn’t go on hanging on to that giant, amorphous blob of a nightmare that felt like the biggest cloud of self-loathing and remorse that had ever wafted into my life. I would never be the same. How had I let him do these things to me, and how eagerly had I participated in them, and spurred them on, and then waited for him, begging him
- Something bordering on nausea, something like remorse—was that it, then?—began to grip me and seemed to define itself ever more clearly the more I became aware of incipient daylight through our windows.
- I, Judas-like, kept saying to myself, If only he knew. If only he knew I want to be leagues and a lifetime away from him. I hugged him
- Would I always experience such solitary guilt in the wake of our intoxicating moments together?
The San Clemente Syndrome
- With dusk scarcely an hour away, the street-lights glistened through dense halos, while the lighted storefronts seemed doused in gleaming colors of their own invention
- But I also loved the languor that sat upon the city, like a lover’s tired, unsteady arm resting on your shoulders.
- Could intimacy endure once indecency was spent and our bodies had run out of tricks?
- There was more to learn in this tiny crammed bookstore than in any of the mighty institutions across the Atlantic.
- “I wish I had one friend I wasn’t destined to lose.”
- how we move through time, how time moves through us, how we change and keep changing and come back to the same
- Anticipating sorrow to neutralize sorrow—that’s paltry, cowardly stuff, I told myself, knowing I was an ace practitioner of the craft
- In my place, most parents would hope the whole thing goes away, or pray that their sons land on their feet soon enough. But I am not such a parent. In your place, if there is pain, nurse it, and if there is a flame, don’t snuff it out, don’t be brutal with it. Withdrawal can be a terrible thing when it keeps us awake at night, and watching others forget us sooner than we’d want to be forgotten is no better. We rip out so much of ourselves to be cured of things faster than we should that we go bankrupt by the age of thirty and have less to offer each time we start with someone new. But to feel nothing so as not to feel anything—what a waste!
- so that Oliver, who for so long had loomed like a fulcrum on the scale of life, eventually acquired successors who either eclipsed him or reduced him to an early milepost, a minor fork in the road
- The very possibility of meeting his family suddenly alarmed me—too real, too sudden, too in-my-face, not rehearsed enough. Over the years I’d lodged him in the permanent past, my pluperfect lover, put him on ice, stuffed him with memories and mothballs like a hunted ornament confabulating with the ghost of all my evenings. I’d dust him off from time to time and then put him back on the mantelpiece. He no longer belonged to earth or to life
- “It used to be mine, but you’ve owned it far, far longer than I have.” We belonged to each other, but had lived so far apart that we belonged to others now. Squatters, and only squatters, were the true claimants to our lives