Once again, I know that the book that I am writing about today is not by a local author. I will get back to those. I promise. However, I am once again writing about a book that had an impact on me in unexpected and not all together unpleasant ways. This book is Lie With Me by Philippe Besson as translated from the French by Molly Ringwald.
I first saw this book mentioned in Books-A-Million’s free publication Book Page, and I put a hold on it at the Akron-Summit County Public Library. Upon receiving the book, it sat on the stairs to the upper floor almost until it was due, before I picked it up. I went back and forth in my mind whether I wanted to read it or not. However, when I did pick it up and start reading, the proverbial “I could not put it down” kicked in big time.
Philippe Besson is an author, screenwriter, and playwright. He is the author of several novels, including Lie With Me, which sold more than 120,000 copies in France and won the Maison de la Presse Prize. The novel has been referred to as the French Brokeback Mountain. It tells the haunting story of an affair between two teenage boys, Philippe and Thomas, during their final year of high school in 1984. The translation by Molly Ringwald is both lyrical and poetic, in the sense that, in a lot of places, I felt like I was reading a poem as opposed to a novel.
I had much in common with Philippe, and when I can directly and strongly identify with one of the main characters, I think that the book becomes even more extraordinary to me. Philippe’s father was an educator, just as mine was, and in this passage, I felt that he could have been talking about my father as well:
“My father insisted on good grades. I simply didn’t have the right to be mediocre or even average. There was only one place for me-first. He claimed that I would find salvation in my studies, that only study could ‘allow one to enter the elevator.’ He wanted the top-ranking higher education establishments for me, nothing else. I obeyed, just as I had with my glasses. I had to.”
Philippe also immersed himself in books, as I did, and his father would have felt that, “Writing books is not a suitable occupation, and above all it’s not a job, because it doesn’t earn money. It doesn’t earn security or status. It’s also not in the real world. Writing is on the outside.” I was reminded of my own senior year in college when, for a period of time I thought about pursuing writing instead of going to law school. I don’t remember any specific conversations with my father about it, but I do know where I ended up. I was not able to pursue writing until completing a 36 year career as a lawyer and the death of my father.
Philippe’s imagined description of Thomas’ father also could have been a description of my own father as well:
“Thomas says: ‘It’s hard to know what he is thinking.’ It’s an elegant way of suggesting that his father isn’t affectionate, tender, or reassuring, that he remains aloof, that what he offers is a mix of reserve and unspoken pride for his son.”
Wow! Philippe goes on to say that he knows what it’s like to be the son of a man like that, and so do I. Philippe then ponders a question that I have never thought of, but was heart breaking to me, “I wonder if it’s cold fathers who make the sensitive sons.”
I have purposely not given away too much of what happens in the book but suffice it to say that, in the final analysis, it is a heart-breaking love story. My own emotions have been locked up for an awfully long time, and I cried at the end of the book. Any book that can unlock my dormant emotions is an exceptionally good read indeed.
Barbara Marie Minney is a transgender woman, poet, writer, speaker, and quiet activist. She is a retired attorney and originally from West Virginia. Now based in Tallmadge, Ohio, her first collection of poetry entitled “If There’s No Heaven” was the winner of the 2020 Poetry Is Life Book Award and the Akron Beacon Journal Best Northeast Ohio Books 2020. It is available at www.poetryislifepublishig.com. Follow Barbara at www.barbaramarieminneypoetry.com.