Beauty and Loss

In the past, I’ve written a bit about my love of all things Leonard Cohen.  He’s one of those artists whose work is so profound and immense that it’s hard to even scratch the surface.  Most know him as a musician and a poet, but few acknowledge the accomplishments of his prose, particularly his two novels:  The Favorite Game and Beautiful Losers.  With this post, I wanted to write a bit about the latter, which was my first foray into Leonard Cohen’s prose work.  Beautiful Losers is jarring, shocking, beautiful and crafted with incredible precision.

The novel revolves around an unnamed protagonist who is involved in a love triangle with his friend (called only F) and his wife, Edith.  Throughout the book, there are indications that F may be a figment of the protagonist’s imagination, yet he still manages to maintain a bit of autonomy through his domineering nature, his existence notwithstanding.  Both the unnamed protagonist and Edith are obsessed with Kateri Tekakwitha, a Native American woman who was an early convert to Christianity in the 17th century and was beatified by Pope John Paul II in the 1980s.

Cohen’s work as a poet is almost impossible to extricate from his prose, which itself is richly poetic, peppered with turns of phrase that seem almost otherworldly.   Cohen merges the sacred (Tekakwitha) with the profane (the heavily stylized sexual relationship between the narrator, Edith and F).  However, the sexualization of Tekakwitha doesn’t come across as in poor taste–the characters’ obsession with her isn’t gratuitous, despite its sexuality, which seems to be the crux of the novel (notably for F):  the search for a sort of divine nature within human sexuality and all of the dichotomies inherent in such a quest, notably the aforementioned merger of the sacred and the profane.

However one approaches this novel, its beauty and bravery can’t be denied.  Cohen paints characters on the cusp of sanity, yet they are human through and through.  Beautiful Losers isn’t a page-turner, nor is it meant to be.  It’s meant to be digested, taken in, examined.  This is a novel that creates unforgettable images with something new to be found upon each reexamining.  And that’s part of the beauty:  like life itself, often to make sense of it, one must reexamine and reevaluate.  Give it a chance.  You won’t be disappointed.

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