The first-person narrator of WRITTEN ON THE BODY (whose name and gender are left unstated) is alone at the end of a hot dry summer when the novel begins. It has not always been so for the narrator; she or he recalls other summers, lush and fertile, filled with mutual desire. The path between then and now, a trail strewn with male and female lovers alike, is what the narrator must traverse again to determine how Louise, the great love of the narrator’s life, was lost.
When Louise and the narrator meet, the narrator is trying hard to enjoy a comfortable, if routine, life with Jacqueline, a zookeeper. But Jacqueline’s quiet virtues pale quickly next to the charm of Louise’s blood-red hair and Australian accent. For her part, Louise chooses to leave cancer specialist Elgin Rosenthal, her husband of ten years, to join the narrator. Despite this mutual declaration of devotion, Louise is very aware of the narrator’s Lothario past. She instructs her sweetheart to refrain from saying “I love you” until the day when the narrator can prove her or his love. That moment arrives when Elgin suddenly reappears and informs the narrator that Louise has leukemia. Although it is asymptomatic now, only early intervention can prevent the disease’s onset. Abandon her, he tells the narrator, and as his wife Louise can receive the finest medical care. Continue the relationship and Louise may die.
What one does and fails to do in the name of love is at...
(The entire section is 540 words.)