Hot nights, Toronto streets: What is love enough?

Where is the love?

Why is Dionne Brand's new novel called Love Enough?

That was a question I asked myself while reading. Of course, I knew I might never have a proper answer. Still, I suppose that one way to answer that question would be to track where love appears, where love is silent, what love does, what love is in proximity to.

On page five! A clue:

No argument in the world is ever resolved. Resolving would suggest some liquid in which arguments could be immersed, perhaps love. But it must be love enough. The consistency of the mixture would have to be a greater portion of love. So many deciliters of love to dissolve so many millilitres of the other stuff. [my italics]

In a few stylized titles in the paratext, "Love" and "Enough" are always conjoined, either pressed against each other making one word (like, LOVEENOUGH), or, on top of each other like lovers twisting in bed on a Sunday morning.

And that hypothetical bed, that hypothetical Sunday morning would have to be set in a summer in Toronto. No other place is quite enough. After all, Brand's last novel was What We All Long For (2005), a book revered for its "multicultural" tonality, sure, but most of all for its Toronto-ness, an even more slippery thing.

While Brand is no longer Toronto Poet Laureate (George Eliott Clarke became her successor in 2012), readers might still feel she belongs to Toronto. Or rather, Toronto belongs to her. Like many of Brand's writings, Love Enough is somewhat of an incantation for Toronto.

In Love Enough, Toronto is cars and heat. The drench of those fast things on our conscience. Summer in the city sets off transports of feeling. Car scenes. But bike scenes, too. (I'm reminded of one of my favourite "Toronto" books, Sheila Heti's How Should A Person Be? where I remember the narrator biking fast just to get away.) And planes and ferry rides to the island. The city is constantly moving because its people are moving. To where? I don't know.

In Love Enough, Toronto is centre and periphery. Toronto is often described by its parts, its near genetic make-up of, say, in Brand's words, the hair store on Weston Road, the revolutionary, the criminal, the musician, the organizer, the immigrant mother, Bay and Bloor, the taxi driver with a degree or two. Et cetera. In other words, lacking its own resolute identity like its global city peers, say, New York or a Berlin, Toronto is made up of types.

In her typical textual polyphony, the 18 chapters in Love Enough swing back, forth and between a variety of characters existing in the same space and season. What this pseudo fragmentary form allows for is getting deep into the book. It's the parts themselves that I love, so much so that I almost forget I'm reading to write a review.

The big themes (race, criminality, capitalism) almost feel like window dressings to being knee-deep in a particularly emotionally sprawling section contrasted by its straight-forward language and one-word sentences. (I mean all this in a good way. Brand makes all simple things unclear.)

But Brand's tornado of characters (Lia, June, Bedri, Ghost, Jasmeet, Sydney, Mercede) are far from appealing. In fact, I loathe many of them. And I loathe that some make my skin crawl.

Perhaps especially June, the one who takes everyone in. She is, you know, sympathetic to the cause. She's corny. But June is also "brutal." I find that in this way she's like me. I feel tricked, then, when I identify my character in the one she takes in, the "thug," as her lover Sydney called him. And because I yearn for the thug with bruised purple knuckles, I also maybe loathe myself as a reader.

These are the complexities that Brand brings to bear in her uncluttered writing because Brand's work undermines the distinction between life and death. That is to say, here we get a tremendous testing of what love can endure, which may in fact not be a whole lot at all.

And yet, the first page, the very first line, sets up the erogenous zone: "The best way of looking at a summer sunset in this city is in the rear-view mirror." The spaces where the city exhausts itself, the spaces of silence, these are spaces Brand at once refuses to fill up but points us there to their absence. It's always daybreak in a Dionne Brand novel. ("Time is turmoil," goes the beginning of chapter seventeen.)

The publication of Brand's novel feels excellently timed. Now more than ever it seems, Toronto is no longer itself. But for some of us, the temptation of belonging has unfailingly been a torn endeavor, an incredible risk.

It feels almost cheap to write about Love Enough through the lens of Toronto, I think, because the city will never be enough.

I want to believe it is, but I'm left with the feeling that there will never be love enough.

I'm left with a kind of emptiness that overlwhelms chapter 12: "There is a momentary quiet. Even the bird went still. And the stillness is empty. Empty like something good. Like Open time. Like if time opened an empty room."

 

Tiana Reid is a writer living in New York City, where she is a graduate student at Columbia University. Her work has appeared in Bitch, Briarpatch Magazine, TheFeminist Wire, Hyperallergic, Maisonneuve, VICE, and more.

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