In reading and in life, I steer clear of anything that stinks of rose petals. I like telenovelas, but only to make fun of. I roll my eyes at Disney. I avoid romantic comedies like the plague. “I like things to be a little tragic,” I once told a lover as we parted ways. And I do.
Abandon Me by Melissa Febos, a meditation on the underpinnings of love and attraction, is some such tragic book, but it is also a searing examination of the self by putting our desire to love under a scalpel. In Abandon Me love is longed for, looked for, unrequited, requited, and then lost in all the traditional ways, yet at every corner there is ash and bones and mirrors and startling specters that surprise both Febos and her lover, a married poet.
“Every story begins with an unraveling,” Febos writes. “This story starts with a kiss. Her mouth the soft nail on which my life snagged, and tore open.”
Febos’ first memoir, Whip Smart, explored the author’s drug addiction and work as a dominatrix, but Abandon Me is a journey to dissecting hunger, which is another of Febos’ words for love:
Tenderness toward the object of our desire becomes an expression of love partly, I think, because it so defies the nature of want, whose instinct is often less to cuddle than to crush. My want was more gnash than kiss, more eat than embrace. I cared for my lover, but that kind of desire precludes many kinds of love. Hunger is selfish. I wanted her happiness. I also wanted to unzip my body and pull her into it, or crawl into hers. It is no accident that we go to the pulse. Lust is an urge to consume and perhaps there is no true expression of it that does not imply destruction. I can’t say. But even my tenderness for kittens includes an impulse to put them in my mouth.
There is something pioneering about the way Melissa Febos talks about love, connecting it to all its binary shadows.