‘The Love Object’ by Edna O’Brien

The Love Object by Edna O’Brien, 1967

The magic trick:

Using a dream sequence to both obscure and explain the meanings of a love affair

Dream sequences can be cheats. Throw in some weird images, get some easy symbolism working, and just like that you’ve expanded your theme or moved your plot in a new direction. I don’t hate them. But I’m just saying there’s reason to approach with skepticism.

So, skepticism established, the dream sequence in “The Love Object” is amazing. Our narrator is engaged in a confusing love affair that is both exhilarating and devastating (aren’t they all?). The dream sequence throws her into even more confusion. The reader, too, isn’t sure what it means yet – it’s still early in the story. So what’s really cool is the way the dream sequence’s meanings expand as the story goes on.

Often the early sections in a story inform the way we read the story as it develops. Obviously. That makes sense. And that happens in this story too. The dream sequence changes the way we read the rest of the story. But it’s more. Because the dream sequence is so ambiguous, the rest of the story also informs how we read the dream sequence. Which, when you think about it, is very much how a tumultuous relationships works. Different pieces make different levels of sense at different times.

And that’s quite a trick on O’Brien’s part.

The selection:

Before I can scream, my tongue isn’t mine anymore. Or it might be the Other One. Tall too, he gets me by my bracelet as I slip between the banisters of the stairs. I’ve forgotten that I am not a little girl anymore and that I don’t slip easily between banisters. If the bracelet snapped in two I would have made my escape, leaving him with one half of a gold bracelet in his hand, but my goddamn provident mother had a safety chain put on it because it was nine-carat. Anyhow, he’s in the bed. It will go on forever, the things he wants. I daren’t turn around to look at him. Then something gentle about the way the sheet is pulled down suggests that he might be the New One. The man I met a few weeks ago. Not my type at all, tiny broken veins on his cheeks, and red, actually red, hair.

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