Don't You Know...
There is something disconcerting about reading Laura Bogart’s Don’t You Know I Love You while the Covid-19 lockdowns continue. Too many people now—recent college grads like Bogart’s protagonist, Angelina Moltisanti, and college students like Angelina’s friend Janet—are constrained to domicile in places freighted with past violence that threatens, each day and each night, to burst into the present. Returned to our homes, some of us are also returned to relationships that we believed we had left behind, and so it is with Angelina, an aspiring artist whose parents take her in after she breaks her wrist in a car accident and loses her first post-college job.
Without the experience of lockdown, I’m not sure I would know what to make of the temporal discontinuities that recur in Bogart’s narration, where present dialogue can appear mid-flashback with minimal reorienting cues and where flashback itself can slip insidiously into any paragraph. The structure of traumatic return in which the past never recedes and the present is hardly lived at all was familiar to me. But Bogart, rather than writing trauma as either void or eruption, renders it as copresence. I would call it haunting, were it ever possible to separate the ghost of memory from Angelina’s self, but in this novel memory’s presence is fully embodied, the pain in Angelina’s wrist merging with the pain of beatings she’s taken at her father’s hands—and with the pain of heartache.
The novel’s different pains—“a hiss of broken fuses”—all overlap one another and inhibit any definite reply.
While Jack and Marie, Angelina’s father and mother, don’t see themselves as monsters, they understand well enough that something has gone wrong in their parent-daughter relations, and they take Angelina’s return home as a second chance. Jack: “Things would be different this time” (31); Marie: “It’s so good to have you home … I’m glad to have my girl around” (34). But I tuned in at once to Angelina’s anticipatory pangs. I cringed with her at her father’s insistence on negotiating her insurance settlement, and I bristled at the demonstrative love Jack gives to Angelina’s dog, the just-rescued Valentina, who functions in the novel as a flesh-and-blood barometer for the emotional atmosphere around her. I waited, with Angelina, for violence to resurface and wondered whether her teenage promise to kill her father if he ever struck her again augured a crisis that would push the novel from family drama to thriller.
Don’t You Know I Love You does begin to simmer, and the most interesting source of heat is Angelina herself. But while the novel doesn’t shy away from depicting violence—what was always coming to the Moltisanti household does, at last, arrive—its true subject is the relationship between suffering and expression. Drunk, Angelina tells one of Janet’s friends, “I believe in suffering for my art,” and she transmutes the broken bones of the novel’s first scene into her first important work. Moreover, erotic expression is as important as art, and Bogart’s richest prose accompanies Angelina’s attraction to Janet. Ultimately, though, both art and eros are too full of their own energetic, violent potentials to order the novel’s resolution. Verbal expression counts, too, and Don’t You Know I Love You is a canny title because even as it tells of love, it points to a long, long period of not telling: “Don’t you know I love you, even though I never tell you so?”
As I started Bogart’s novel, I thought for sure that Jack or Marie would wind up saying something like this to Angelina, in a moment of flat disconnection. As the novel drew on, I came to suspect that Angelina would be the speaker, that this half-admission of love to her parents or maybe to Janet would pin down the daughter’s inherited reticence and her attendant capacity to harm. But Bogart wisely refuses to land the punch of the title. Who does love whom, we have to keep asking, and how? The novel’s different pains—“a hiss of broken fuses”—all overlap one another and inhibit any definite reply (152). The characters’ myriad disappointments shape their lives as much as their loves or ambitions do. The closest this novel brings us to loving resolution is Angelina’s silent “no” on the final page.
REVIEWED BY EZRA DAN FELDMAN
Ezra is the author Habitat of Stones, which won the Patricia Bibby First Book Award. He has published in RHINO, Crazyhorse, Lambda Literary, DIAGRAM, and other venues. He teaches American Literature and Science and Technology Studies at Williams College.