Dur­ing the hec­tic sec­ond part of my twen­ties I wrote my debut nov­el, Love; although slim, it took me almost sev­en years to com­plete it. I began writ­ing in Tel Aviv then con­tin­ued in Paris, New York City, and Ann Arbor. I wrote in dif­fer­ent rent­ed flats, cafés, uni­ver­si­ty libraries, and friends’ homes; I was always on the move — if not geo­graph­i­cal­ly, then men­tal­ly. Thomas Bern­hard wrote, in Wittgenstein’s Nephew, that I am the hap­pi­est trav­el­er — when I am on the move, mov­ing on or mov­ing off — but the unhap­pi­est arriv­er. Clear­ly this is a mor­bid con­di­tion.” I iden­ti­fied with Bern­hard; I wrote Love in between places and the idea of con­stant move­ment entered the book, shap­ing and inspir­ing my writing.

Loves pro­tag­o­nist is a call girl named Lib­by (“my heart,” in Hebrew) who belongs nowhere. She is an escape artist who nev­er stays in one place longer than the length of time it takes for the men she meets — lovers or clients — to fin­ish. Much of the first part of the book takes place in the car that brings her from client to client. In the sec­ond part of the book, Lib­by tries to quit her line of work and main­tain a more nor­ma­tive rela­tion­ship with a lover. How­ev­er, she can­not resist the urge to escape this, too. Get­ting out of places is her exper­tise and her drug of choice; the phrase I got out of there” appears numer­ous times in the book.

I gave Lib­by my own dis­com­fort with motion­less­ness, and the plea­sure I take with trav­el­ing-but-not-yet-arriv­ing. Because Lib­by knows well what awaits her upon arrival, shab­by hotel rooms or rooms for rent by the hour, where she’ll have to sub­ject her­self to the desires of oth­ers. Lib­by is aware, as Jen­ny Dis­ki beau­ti­ful­ly put it, that the point of desire is desire itself, the essen­tial plea­sure in expec­ta­tion is expec­ta­tion.” Thus ful­fill­ing her clients’ desires means noth­ing to Lib­by, and she observes them crit­i­cal­ly, and even scorn­ful­ly, from a distance.

Lib­by will­ful­ly choos­es for­get­ful­ness over self-knowl­edge, rep­e­ti­tion over redemption.

The world which Lib­by inhab­its — night­time, in the com­pa­ny of pimps and oth­er call girls and clients — doesn’t care about her own desires. She has to com­plete­ly sub­mit her­self to what oth­ers expect her to do. I chose to shape the sex­u­al encoun­ters she shares with clients and the occa­sion­al lover in an almost tech­ni­cal man­ner; in these scenes, sex is noth­ing more than an inven­to­ry or a cat­a­log of body parts and posi­tions. Lib­by her­self treats this sex with indif­fer­ence: so I did every­thing they told me to do,” she lacon­i­cal­ly notes at one point.

And yet Lib­by is not char­ac­ter­ized by her sub­mis­sive­ness, but rather by her force­ful sense of defi­ance against any sort of order. She is as con­temp­tu­ous toward the lust of her clients as she is toward nor­ma­tive life orches­trat­ed by bour­geois notions. She can move between the two worlds as a dou­ble agent and expose the mech­a­nisms that are at work in each world. Even as she seem­ing­ly leaves sex work behind, love evades her, or rather reveals itself to be dan­ger­ous­ly close to the vio­lence found in the world she is try­ing to free her­self from.

For the most part, Lib­by will­ful­ly choos­es for­get­ful­ness over self-knowl­edge, rep­e­ti­tion over redemp­tion. This is Libby’s mor­bid con­di­tion.” She rejects her ther­a­pists’ desire to inquire into the sources of her pain, say­ing I laughed loud­ly when they asked if I felt any pain, where did it feel painful,” and dis­re­gards the oppor­tu­ni­ty to con­fess her pain. I didn’t con­fess to them,” she says in regard to her ther­a­pists, it wasn’t an irre­sistible urge.” Lib­by con­tin­ues to refuse to allow oth­ers to nar­rate her sto­ry for her. She began as an unre­li­able nar­ra­tor (“truth,” she says, was anoth­er com­mod­i­ty I had no inter­est in”) and must learn to tell her sto­ry first and fore­most to herself.

But telling sto­ries about mas­cu­line vio­lence that pen­e­trates even our most nor­ma­tive spaces can be risky. When Love came out in Hebrew in 2020, many won­dered whether it was a work of aut­ofic­tion. Miran­da July is famous­ly quot­ed to have said that women writ­ers are often con­flat­ed with their nar­ra­tors — as if we can’t con­scious­ly con­struct fic­tion­al worlds from the ground up and can only write diary entries.” Love is a work of fic­tion, and yet it also draws from some of my own life expe­ri­ences. Cre­at­ing fic­tion­al and metaphor­i­cal worlds is anoth­er way of always being on the move — this time in lan­guage. Love attempts to deal with sex work both as a con­crete phe­nom­e­non and as a metaphor for life under patri­archy. By the end of the book, whether Lib­by is fat­ed to end­less­ly repeat her past or redeem her­self is anyone’s guess. What is cer­tain is that even if she does man­age to leave the world of sex work behind, the ques­tion of how to main­tain love and lov­ing rela­tion­ships in a world where bod­ies are sold and bought remains as rel­e­vant to her — and to us — as ever.

Maayan Eitan’s short fic­tion and essays have been pub­lished in The Keny­on Review and World Lit­er­a­ture Today. She holds a master’s degree in com­par­a­tive lit­er­a­ture from the Uni­ver­si­ty of Michi­gan, Ann Arbor, and is cur­rent­ly pur­su­ing a PhD in Hebrew in lit­er­a­ture in Israel. She lives in Tel Aviv