“’Explore me,’ you said and I collected my ropes, flasks and maps, expecting to be back home soon. I dropped into the mass of you and I cannot find the way out. Sometimes I think I’m free, coughed up like Jonah from the whale, but then I turn a corner and recognize myself again. Myself in your skin, myself lodged in your bones, myself floating in the cavities that decorate every surgeon’s wall. That is how I know you. You are what I know” (120).
This passage has three intersecting themes based on the language: exploration, the body, and the self. As the narrator describes exploring Louise, the words in this first cluster extend beyond literal exploration (ropes, flasks, maps) to a subcategory of being stuck, unable to find a way out, even lodged in her bones. The narrator transitions into clinical, rather than sensual, language to describe the body, and specifically how they feel connected to Louise. They experience more than an emotional attachment, though; they basically imply that they are or have become Louise by virtue of falling in love with her—seeing themself in her skin, her bones, and the cavities of her body. In being physically part of Louise, they lose themself to her, to the extent that she becomes all that they know. But even with the emphasis on Louise’s body, their focus is clear from their repetition of the word “myself.”
Throughout the novel, the narrator meanders between feeling lost and found—lost throughout their numerous relationships (as displayed by their non-linear narration), found with Louise, only to become lost again when they leave her. But interestingly, here they describe feeling lost when they recognize themself. They allude to the Biblical story of Jonah, who is saved from drowning by a whale that releases him back on shore, the lesson being to repent instead of running from God. Essentially, once Louise “saves” the narrator and teaches them to “repent” for their less-than-considerate behavior, they being to rediscover themself. But instead of providing clarity, discovering their identity is disorienting. They have lost their sense of self, and instead attempt to carve their identity out of their relationship.
Repeatedly, the narrator describes relationships in which they attempt (in some form) to transform into that which most pleases their partner, but it is never enough. I think that instills in them a fear of commitment that causes them to find comfort in loneliness and self-centeredness, however ironic and frustrating it may seem. Even when they finally find comfort with Louise, they run away under the guise of playing the “hero,” despite doing exactly what hurts her the most. As much as they want to understand Louise, they are too afraid to be understood, afraid to have strings attached. So, as we have discussed in class, Louise reads, writes, and unravels them, but I think that ultimately, they are too lost to even be found.