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Review of "It's Love We Don't Understand"

By Bart Moeyaert
Front Street Press, 2002
Review by Su Terry on Dec 20th 2002
It's Love We Don't Understand

It's Love We Don't Understand by Bart Moeyaert is a troubling and often unnerving novel about a very dysfunctional family. The brief novel contains three vignettes from this family’s existence over a period of approximately two years.

            The setting of It's Love We Don't Understand is never given, but one may guess that it is the author’s country of Belgium, however, the exact location is not important to the plot. The protagonist of the novel is an unnamed girl. Vignette One entitled “The End of Bordzek, Told by Myself who was There” is set along a road on the way to Bonnie’s house. (Bonnie is the eldest child in the family.) Axel, the elder brother in the family, stops the car and gets out. His mother, Bordzek, her boyfriend, Vlad, his dog, and the protagonist are in the backseat. Her younger sister, Edie is in the front seat. The mother gets out and an argument breaks out between her and her son that eventually evolves to include her boyfriend. The protagonist and her younger sister walk away while Vlad, the dog and the only one enjoying this unscheduled stop, is running through the roadside field barking. Vignette Two entitled “Boatman’s Arrival” is set in the family’s home. The mother receives a letter that her mother has died and that according to her will “the Boatman” who has cared for her prior to her death has been bequeath to the family and will be coming to live with the family. The family speculates about exactly who the Boatman is and how much money and other wealth he might be bringing with him. The mother and the protagonist go to the train station to meet the Boatman. They are sadly, disappointed. The third and final vignette is entitled “What are they doing over there in Charlestown?” is again set in the family home. The mother is gone, the son has moved to Charlestown. (Although, he is still visually present in the house.) Bonnie is there to watch over the Boatman, the protagonist, and Edie, youngest sister. Bonnie and the protagonist speculate about Axel and his new life outside the home. Edie shimmies down the drainpipe and nonsensical verbal commentary is added by the Boatman. That is it. That is everything that happens in the novel.

             It's Love We Don't Understand is mercifully short. While it is emotional intense and graphic, the lack of information about the characters left me feeling uninvolved. It felt like a drive-by viewing of a very disturbed family. While the scenes may draw attention for a moment, my interest was soon waning. Vignette one was graphic and vignette three was just plain uninteresting and confusing. Vignette two holds the most potential and would actually make a very fine short story. The fixedness of the characters to a limited setting within each vignette lends itself well to the stage. Unfortunate the lack of drama may make this a better classroom exercise than a successful stage production.

Bart Moeyaert is a Belgium author. He was been nominated twice for the Hans Christian Andersen Award. At the age of 19-years, he published his first book, Duet out of Tune (1983) that was chosen as “a Best Book of the Year by the Children and Youth Jury” (1984). His other books include, Suzanne Dantine (1989); Kiss Me (1992 - Book Lion award); Bare Hands (1996 - Book Lion award and the Golden Pencil Award); and Wasps' Nest (1997 a rewriting of Suzanne Dantine). Brothers, a collection of short theatrical pieces, will be published in 2002/3.

               It's Love We Don't Understand by Bart Moeyaert is a confusing and not terrible interesting muddle. Short, but not so sweet. As another reviewer put it, “It’s this book I do not understand.” I must agree.  I do not recommend this book.


© 2002 Su Terry

Su Terry: Education: B.A. in History from Sacred Heart University, M.L.S. in Library Science from Southern Connecticut State College, M.R.S. in Religious Studies/Pastoral Counseling from Fairfield University, a M.Div. in Professional Ministry from New Brunswick Theological Seminary, a Certificate in Spirituality/Spiritual Direction from Sacred Heart University. She is a Licensed Minister of the United Church of Christ and an Assistant Professor in Library Science at Dowling College, Long Island, NY. Interests in Mental Health: She is interested in the interplay between psychology, biology, and mysticism. Her current area of research is in the impact of hormonal fluctuation in female Christian mystics.