Love Me Tender
168 pp., 5 x 8 in,
- Published: September 27, 2022
- Published: September 27, 2022
A novel of lesbian identity and motherhood, and the societal pressures that place them in opposition.
The daughter of an illustrious French family whose members include a former Prime Minister, a model, and a journalist, Constance Debré abandoned her marriage and legal career in 2015 to write full-time and begin a relationship with a woman. Her transformation from affluent career woman to broke single lesbian was chronicled in her 2018 novel Play boy, praised by Virginie Despentes for its writing that is at once “flippant and consumed by anxiety.”
In Love Me Tender, Debré goes on to further describe the consequences of that life-changing decision. Her husband, Laurent, seeks to permanently separate her from their eight-year old child. Vilified in divorce court by her ex, she loses custody of her son and is allowed to see him only once every two weeks for a supervised hour. Deprived of her child, Debré gives up her two-bedroom apartment and bounces between borrowed apartments, hotel rooms, and a studio the size of a cell. She involves herself in brief affairs with numerous women who vary in age, body type, language, and lifestyle. But the closer she gets to them, the more distant she feels. Apart from cigarettes and sex, her life is completely ascetic: a regime of intense reading and writing, interrupted only by sleep and athletic swimming. She shuns any place where she might observe children, avoiding playgrounds and parks “as if they were cluster bombs ready to explode, riddling her body with pieces of shrapnel.”
Writing graphically about sex, rupture, longing, and despair in the first person, Debré's work is often compared with the punk-era writings of Guillaume Dustan and Herve Guibert, whose work she has championed. As she says of Guibert: “I love him because he says I and he's a pornographer. That seems to be essential when you write. Otherwise you don't say anything.” But in Love Me Tender, Debré speaks courageously of love in its many forms, reframing what it means to be a mother beyond conventional expectations.
Love Me Tender is a book unlike any other. It's a page-turner that tumbles forth like a horror story, albeit one punctuated by sex, swimming, injustice, and love. Committed to truth-telling, no matter how rough, but also intriguingly suspended in a cloud of unknowing and pain, Love Me Tender is a wry, original, agonizing book destined to become a classic of its kind.
Maggie Nelson, author of On Freedom
This is exhilarating.
Eileen Myles, author of Afterglow
What remains when a person shears away—like sacrificing her gorgeous locks—the family, the "good breeding," the "brilliant career," and every pleasing role she was meant to play? In the case of Constance Debré, what remains is a deadpan, tensile thread of a voice: calm, Camusian, comic, stark, relentless, and totally hypnotic.
Rachel Kushner, author of The Hard Crowd
Constance Debré's writing is entirely without ornament—direct, propulsive, and surpassingly honest. Her chronicle of day-to-day existence during a period of familial upheaval and sexual exploration is one in which every detail is rendered interesting, every episode surprising, by the author's uncanny ability to make understatement sparkle. Love Me Tender is just plain wonderful.
Gary Indiana, author of Fire Season
"[Debre]'s new book, Love Me Tender, admirably translated by Holly James, continues to trace her psychic and sexual evolution, while also describing the agonizing impact of her decisions on her relationship with her son, Paul."