He/She is a funny book about serious matters. It delights and it pains. It entertains, but it is also oppressive. Herbert Gold’s artistry, earned over a long and distinguished career, is everywhere apparent but nowhere does it call attention to itself. The book convinces the reader that Gold and his characters have known the torment of being in love and the greater torment of getting out of love.
Because Gold leaves his chief characters nameless, they appear intended to be representative; nevertheless, they achieve very full personalities. Gold sensibly focuses on the male, whom he presumably can understand more fully, but the novel does not take sides. Neither He nor She comes across as Victim, at least not of each other, although both—probably like most people—are victims of the pathology of love.
Gold has divided his novel into four parts of unequal length; the longer parts correspond to the longer stages of the dissolution of love. The final part consists of a single chapter. The book concludes with the suggestion that, once the husband is purged and has genuinely found himself out of love, his wife may be prompted to reassert her claim to that love. She has the final word: “You’ll wreck things, don’t you know, if you pretend it’s up to you.”
That sentence may summarize the wisdom of He/She and of Gold’s experience, but it is susceptible to more than one interpretation. The person in love, or out of love, makes a mistake to think he is wholly in control, for there is always the Other. Western art has been tireless in recording the vicissitudes of even True Love, the nature of which keeps changing as social and cultural changes occur.
He/She opens with grand irony: “The two of them celebrated Saturday morning as best they could.” He regards their marriage as a festival; She knows better. She recognizes that she has been burying the whisper of NO “in the noise of her body which he seemed so proud to summon.” She finds it hard to tell him what she has come to realize: “his momentary achievement” is a trivial thing and “a trivial thing does not alter an essential thing.”
The “trivial thing” is lovemaking, and the “essential thing” is that She does not love her husband, perhaps never has. She has discovered that she is but half a person and does not really know even that half. He and She have a one-year-old child, and She has known since the baby’s birth that she wants out of the marriage. Gold presents the child, Cynthia, in convincing ways and succeeds in demonstrating the parents’ use of the child while allowing Cynthia to develop a personality of her own—capable of being hurt by adult conflicts.
From the first page, Gold generalizes the woman’s situation and realization. She returns home with her daughter from a church gardenwhere the young mothers watched their babies crawl and play and they talked about this evident progress in the lives of babies and about their husbands and about taking up their careers, or at least getting jobs soon, after some early birthday for the child so that life could give them more than it now gave an impatient young mother.
Gold’s woman emerges as both typical and unique; her problem is prevalent in her culture, not a result of uncommon strength or weakness. How she deals with the problem produces the novel.
She has decided to tell her husband the whole truth; she does not want to hurt him, but everything is so clear in her mind that she truly expects him to understand, at least after a time of wearisome explaining. Of course, He does not. He tells her to ask anyone they know whether she loves him; the appearance of love seem sufficient for him, but not for her. She confesses that she has tried to be a bad wife for a year in hopes he would make the hard decision for her and leave her for someone younger and more agreeable. She explains that she had to be unkind because if she had “been loving,” he would have thought she loved him. If she had been loving one day, he would have...
(The entire section is 1674 words.)