Every generation thinks that the times they live through are difficult, onerous, violent and crude. And this gives each generation, or so some artists would have us believe, permission to expose the very depths that their generation has sunk to – or plumbed, if you prefer. And in many cases, art is produced.
But here’s the thing: every age is violent, onerous and crude. We are in a constant state of pain and venality, and the only reasons any generation thinks their era is unique is because 1) without a myth of a better past the present would not look so daring, and 2) no one pays attention to the filth of the past long enough to realize that it is, in fact, our normal condition.
Thus history is routinely prettied up, the degradations and excesses of our parents and grandparents and great grandparents sanitized to create the twin illusions that we have fallen from some sort of grace and that the obstacles we are attempting to surmount are somehow heroic in their awful grandeur.
Making each generation simultaneously better and worse than they really are, and certainly more romantic.
You may find this depressing and I don’t particularly blame you. But there is value in this observation nonetheless. Because it redirects us to the true importance of the works, which ultimately lies not in their revelation of degradation (which can devolve quickly into simple voyeurism), but in the value of connecting these threads across the generations and centuries in order to make sense of ourselves.
Rosch, formerly a creative director at BBH and Mullen among others, director and musician in addition to author, has crafted a dark novel about New York City in (one assumes) the early part of this century, involving the upper (though not highest) levels of that city’s business and social elite. A milieu of ambition and success, where no one really worries about paying their bills, having enough to eat, having a place to sleep, or having the right clothes to wear and bangles to accessorize with. At least, not anyone worth worrying about.
And there is a sense in the book that Mr. Rosch has probably inhabited a universe that brought him in close proximity with the kinds of people and activities he details here. For while people in the film and advertising industry are not actually among the characters in the book, it is reasonable to assume they are probably loitering somewhere in the very near periphery.
It’s difficult to describe the actual plot of the novel without giving it all away and that’s fine because the novel isn’t, really, about its own plot. Or even its own characters. It is, as we discussed earlier, about the degradation, pain, and violence that we constantly slog through, expressed this go-round by these particular characters in this particular setting.
There is violence. There are drugs. There is a variety of sex implied and anticipated. There is an interesting mix of epigrams from luminaries as varied as Woody Allen, Tupac Shakur, Balzac and the Buddha. But mostly of course, there is power – among those who have it, who use it, who lost it, and who want to get it back.
And for all those many strands the book moves quickly, the characters are clearly drawn, the actions sharp and memorable, and the city they all inhabit lives and breathes around them believably. Plus there’s a nifty trick that Mr. Rosch pulls off about half way through the book involving reader sympathies that is really quite admirable.
Of course great art uses these elements and connects to this timeless pain in order to reveal truths about us, something we can use, some insight that helps us fight on to another day. I don’t think this is a hopelessly outdated utilitarian way of looking at art, because I think that “something” can be as simple as merely making sense of what appears senseless.
So does Mr. Rosch’s But I Love You rise to that challenge? The challenge that say, MacBeth meets. Or The Sound and the Fury. Or Paths of Glory? No, but one does not really believe that Mr. Rosch was aiming that high. And that’s fine, for it’s probably what gives the book the lightness that makes what might be unrelentingly grim, quite readable.
It does, however, leave one feeling that the characters are somewhat disposable – and thus by extension that we are too. Mr. Rosch might argue that was his point. He may be right. Others have reached the same conclusion. But I’ll continue on in case he’s wrong, boats against the current and all that jazz.