Monday, November 26, 2007

Without Knowing It

In many ways, Ed Luoma's Without Knowing It (Readers' Forum 2007) reads like a lost Nabokov manuscript. At turns heartbreaking, funny, frustrating and infuriating, the novel is always intelligent, always searching for Truth with a capital T. Indeed, it is his search for Truth (and, of course, his insistence throughout the novel that such a thing exists in the first place) that separates Luoma from many of his postmodern contemporaries; in an age of doubt and cynicism, a point in our cultural progress in which "truthiness" and "knowingness" have supplanted true knowledge, Luoma strives to get at real answers about the human condition. It's no coincidence, then, that a love for Proust (among other giants of what might, for lack of a better term, be dubbed "pre-postmodern" literature) is at the heart of this book. Luoma isn't just trying to be clever, isn't just trying to demonstrate his facility with cultural references (pop and otherwise), but is instead earnestly and (at times) desperately probing the nature of love and friendship throughout this fine novel.

The plot of Without Knowing It revolves around two men and their interest in the works of Marcel Proust. One of the men, a bookseller named Ed, is gay, and the other, a printer named Scott, is (for all practical purposes) not. Not that such labels should matter, but as their friendship deepens and blossoms slowly into mutual admiration and, arguably, love, Scott grows increasingly uncomfortable, thus prompting Ed to meditate at some length on the true nature of love and the degree to which sex and sexuality factor into all relationships. In Ed's desire to love Scott deeply (yet, as the character insists, in a non-sexual way), one is reminded of the profound love shared by such nineteenth century Romantics as Emerson and Thoreau, and in Ed's frustrating efforts at bridging the divide that separates the men, one is also reminded of the doomed romance of Paul McCartney's "Michelle": speaking separate languages, as it were, the major players in this novel never truly communicatate. Nonetheless, it is the attempt that matters, and in this attempt, there is great beauty.

I am told by the author that Without Knowing It is his first and last novel. I can only hope that this is not the case. Luoma writes strong, intelligent prose that challenges the reader to reconsider the comfortable categories our world presents. We could definitely use more writers like him.

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