Love Letter Day X
Preface: I don’t think I can get away with saying things that read like this for much longer, as I’ve become increasingly visible on social media, which is just a curtain away from this blog (newsletter), and I’m starting to feel self-conscious about exposing so much id. So I’m going to eventually dial back into something a little more intellectual (at least superficially), possibly more abstract, likely more coded, and gradually move all my love letters offline. So maybe I want to make these last few emo posts really count.
Several years ago I started writing a novel called Heartbreaker about an outrageously handsome serial killer who would seduce men, make passionate love to them, and then strangle them while literally sticking his penis in his dying victims’ hearts (he carried a miter saw with him). At the time that I was writing it, I thought “the line I won’t cross is the murder and rape of women. This murderer will only victimize men.” [Hah. That was the line I wouldn’t cross, you guys.]
The concept for this novel was inspired by a conversation I had with friends during a wedding trip, about my vile sense of humor. When someone suggested I told hideous stories out of some childish impulse to prove I was gutsy or masculine, I didn’t take it as an insult but rather a challenge. During this wedding I also licked the remnants of a cockroach I smashed with my fist. I did that most likely because I was drunk.
When Human Centipede came out a year after this trip, I remember reading somewhere that the filmmaker wrote the screenplay after his friends joked about the worst possible punishments they could conjure for the most depraved criminals. After a laugh-filled escalation of absurd punishments for horrible crimes, he ended up with the premise of his movie. I think this is akin to why I went so far with Heartbreaker.
One reason I stopped writing Heartbreaker was because I was writing it in Arctic Norway where I discovered the writer Jo Nesbo. It’s not that I was reading Norwegian but Nesbo was so popular there, and I learned of one book of his in particular, called Panserhjerte. The English edition is titled The Leopard, but of course a panzer-heart is probably more like, I dunno…panzer…heart. I really enjoyed the book but that title! DAMN. It kind of just did the job Heartbreaker was supposed to.
I couldn’t quite let go of the manuscript. When I returned to New York I shared bits of it to friends. I had one reader tell me what made this manuscript good was the real premise of my novel: the female detective on the hunt for the killer. She worked too hard. Had so much to prove. I think in hindsight she was more Kurt Wallander than Harry Hole (Nesbo’s signature detective).
Today I realize my killer would leave notes to my detective, implying that his victims were trinkets to her. The novel is actually about how good of a detective Diana Abadjiani was but that she let her job ruin her ability to love, and that she was never really able to understand the killer because she never trusted gestures of love. This, by the way, is classic detective fiction conceit 101: a smart cynic can never fall in love.
Fast forward another year, my interest in this very specific case of gore evolved into a passion for translating Gengoroh Tagame’s most cruel pornographies. If you follow me you know I’ve now been working with Tagame for so long we’re basically in symbiosis. If you don’t follow me, suffice it to say the men in Tagame’s stories would be impaled, dismembered, tortured for years on end and humiliated in front of a society of so-called peers and loved ones. Other men would watch and delight, be turned on, and worst of all make their own victims orgasm to their own defeat.
The critical difference between Tagame and I is that I do not actually get off on any of his overtures nor the realities they allude to, and however obvious that may seem, I think that’s actually quite a crucial detail. I may be titillated but I’d never correlate it to behavior. I am thrilled to be able to understand something so deeply that I cannot touch with my soul.
Heartbreaker was an ode to someone I had been in love with. A crush I’ve already talked about on this blog years ago. My murderer was based on the main character of A Razor’s Edge by W. Sommerset Maugham which was the lover’s most favorite book on earth, he’d told me. It’s a great book about unrequited love, and Larry (the main) is a beautiful man on a journey to find himself, leaving inadvertent victims around him who are incapable of getting woke to the comedies of social mores he’d already deciphered. When I read the book, I thought it was actually quite rude that Larry knew so much and didn’t fight harder to bring others with him to the land of the awakened. I guess if I identified with Larry’s lover, I felt like Larry should’ve tried a little harder. LOL sigh…
If I’m to take the process of writing this novel as some kind of allegory, I’d say my Heartbreaker Larry was really seducing my Diana as a means to create a new intimacy to replace the unending torture of feeling. In my version of this story, he needed to see where she was coming from. But at the same time, if she would just accept his crime as an invitation, she might finally learn to prioritize love over information. In this allegory, there is no way in hell Diana surrenders to Larry, and there’s no way on earth what Larry’s doing could be interpreted as good—it’s clear all he wants is attention and sex would never satisfy him. Are you still following this metaphor? Anyway, you see now why I was never going to make it work with my ex. I made him a murderer.
I used to look at this manuscript and cringe. However, now, as in today, I look back at this entire enterprise and am amazed how my brokenness managed to create a strange, and still at least to me, beautiful story. How amazing was my imagination to come up with all this subterfuge?
I write very different stories now. I write much more closer to my true intentions and true desires. The truest stories will be told somewhere much more private, but I want you to hear them. I really hope you let me tell you these beautiful, true stories, because I no longer need to prove anything. I can be Larry, and you can be Larry, too. Or we can both be Diana. I can just revel in the beautiful and tell you what surrender feels like, without murdering a soul. I’d make sure you got to the other side with me.