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.
Love’s 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