In her powerful debut out via Dzanc, Don’t You Know I Love You, Laura Bogart sheds light on some of the deeply challenging relationships many of us face with our parents.
Bogart is a regular at Salon, where her essays on body image, dating, politics, and violence have gone viral. A recipient of the Grace Paley Fellowship from the Juniper Institute at UMass Amherst, Bogart has also written for The Atlantic, The Guardian, SPIN, The Rumpus, Vulture, Roger Ebert, The AV Club, and Refinery 29 in the past. She is currently a contributing Editor at DAME and a featured author at The Week.
Don’t You Know I Love You, released in March 2020, focuses on Angelina Moltisanti, a queer artist who is forced to move into her abusive father’s house because of an accident that renders her broke and facing life with one remaining arm. Angelia has to re-negotiate her relationship with her father as he tries to get her an accident settlement. She becomes friends with Janet, another queer artist, as she attempts to deal with this re-negotiation, alongside her mother’s wish to give her broken family a second chance. All of this while trying to make art one-handed. Don’t You Know I Love You zooms in on the life of this struggling artist, giving us occasional peeks into the lives of Jack Moltisanti, her father, and Marie, her mother, stringing together the politics of a complex family matrix that encompasses bonds beyond bloodlines.
Bogart’s powerful and lyrical prose is a prominent feature of this novel, something that aptly captures the complex matrix of emotions it weaves. Her prose beautifully balances the paradoxes of trauma.
Elizabeth Outka, associate professor of English at the University of Richmond, talks about this kind of trauma in the essay, “Trauma and Temporal Hybridity” which appeared in Arundhati Roy’s The God of Small Things. “First,” Outka writes, “traumatic events may, strangely, be both erased from memory and yet return repeatedly as flashbacks […]. A second and related paradox involves the freezing of time at one instant, locking the subject in the past moment of trauma; yet alongside the freezing, there is a false sense of movement or unfreezing, as the memory returns again and again to haunt the present.”
Angelina, similar to the characters of The God of Small Things, experiences these paradoxes as she goes back to her father’s house after the accident. She experiences flashbacks as she tries to occupy the space again and puts up with her father’s overwhelming presence even as she attempts to move on for her mother’s sake.
The art piece she tries to create is also perhaps an embodiment of the paradoxes of her trauma and her attempts to deal with it. The prose forces the reader to step into her shoes—we are drawn into Angelina’s space and experience things as they happen to her. This makes it relatable because the reader can draw these into their own complexities and step closer to Angelina. This is a great step toward normalcy and pushing away toxic relationships, even if the person being pushed away is a parent.
Equally beautiful is how the novel deals with sexuality without making it explicit or the centerpiece of the story, something a lot of queer fiction is constantly criticized for. Angelina never really comes out in the novel: all we see is her sexual relationship with Janet, but we are never told what exactly her sexual identity is.
Janet becomes her safe space in the novel, and we see her, Bildungsroman style, being inspired and constantly pushed to pursue her dream of becoming an artist. Janet also plays a pivotal role in Angelina taking the first steps toward pressing charges against her father, even if it means becoming a “memory too painful to be named.” Angelina and Janet’s relationship perhaps also represents a union that was necessary in order to maintain a balance of two extremely opposite emotions—emotions that were broken once they cooled down and emerged as actions.
What is also surprising, at least for me, is that we get to hear from Jack and Marie, Angelina’s parents. This was definitely a tiny break for the reader occupying Angelina’s space, perhaps so as not to overwhelm the reader. One thing that this definitely does is validate the irrationality of “thinking from the other person’s shoes.” That is, how do we make space for ourselves when we are burdened with the other person’s perspective, whatever it might be? These add to the complexities of the novel without disrupting the flow, and Bogart cleverly uses these to give us more context.
Don’t You Know I Love You, therfore, becomes an amalgamation of these ideas and comes together to form a powerful, bold and empowering story that one should definitely read!
Don’t You Know I Love You can be found at Dzanc Books.
Gokul Prabhu is a graduate of Ashoka University, India, with a Postgraduate Diploma in English and creative writing. He works as an administrator and teaching assistant for the Writing and Communication facility at 9dot9 Education, and assists in academic planning for communication, writing and critical thinking courses across several higher education institutions in India. Prabhu’s creative and academic work fluctuates between themes of sexuality and silence, and he hopes to be a healthy mix of writer, educator and journalist in the future. He occasionally scribbles book reviews and interviews authors for Scroll.in, an award-winning Indian digital news publication.