In her most recent novel Love Enough, Dionne Brand provides readers with glimpses into the daily lives of an eclectic cast of characters whose lives intersect in unexpected ways. Set in Toronto, the novel explores from multiple perspectives what it means to love—and to love enough.
There is June, a middle-aged social activist discontented with her relationship with her lover. She gives temporary haven to Bedri, a young man going deeper and deeper into a life of crime with his best friend Ghost. Bedri’s choices disappoint the wishes of his immigrant father, Da’uud, a polyglot and talented economist who drives a taxi in Canada. Ghost’s sister Lia gives up the opportunity for companionship and adventure with Jasmeet, feeling tied to her irresponsible and chaotic mother Mercede.
As each of these characters navigates their lives in the largest city in Canada, they work through what it means to love those around them—lovers, mothers, sons, and strangers.
Brand writes with such easy familiarity about a city that she knows and loves deeply that readers feel instantly at home in the setting. Love Enough invites us to walk Toronto’s streets alongside the characters, to inhabit ordinary corners of a vibrant city and explore its secret haunts. The novel’s opening lines beckon with both invitation and instruction:
The best way of looking at a summer sunset in this city is in the rear-view mirror. Or better, the side mirrors of a car. So startling. All the subtlety, the outerworldliness of the sunset follows you…. If you ever travel east along Dupont Street, at that time, look back.
Brand’s lyrical language paints pictures like that throughout the book. Lake Ontario “oscillates like green-blue wet glass,” while “Toronto sits disconsolate, humid in its thick pink fibreglass insulation.” This language, rarely clichéd or expected, is one of the book’s high points—unsurprising, given that the author has won the Governor General’s Award for her poetry.
The story-lines, on the other hand, sometimes fall flat. The novel’s worst moments read like character sketches written in preparation for something else; Brand often tells us about June’s life instead of letting us watch her live it. She states conclusions rather than painting scenarios from which we could draw our own conclusions, and so June’s life often feels detached, aloof.
Bedri’s narrative acts as a counterpoint to June’s, drawing readers in with its immediacy and intensity. Having committed an awful crime, and knowing each miserable way he has failed his family, Bedri is both desperate for love and desperate to love. After a desolate encounter with his sister, he realizes that his family is afraid of him, and he decides that the best way to love them is to disappear from their lives. Yet he still longs for love. At a bus stop, “something made him hold his hand out for the people standing there to see.” The people rebuff him, not understanding, and Bedri “stood for a while, his hand still outstretched, then he turned and began running down the street with his hand extended.”
Like Bedri, Love Enough’s other characters are often more concerned with receiving love than giving it. Lia focuses on her mother’s failures. June is preoccupied with the ways in which her lover, Sydney, disappoints her, and this preoccupation “bounces and bounces like a pendulum” in her head.
As the novel progresses, however, they learn to give love in small and imperfect ways, coming to understand that “there is nothing universal or timeless about this love business… It is hard if you really want to do it right.” Ghost fathers a child, and when he’s at home, “the baby crawls onto him and plays with the scar on his chest and he feels as if the baby’s hand is sinking past the scar and into his heart.” Sydney tells June that June collects sadness, and this single sentence of understanding, of knowing, fills June up.
The novel opens with that shimmering sunset on Dupont Street, a street that Brand describes as grim and ugly, filled with car-wrecking shops and taxi sheds, desolate diners and hardware stores. Ethereal beauty juxtaposed with the grim, concrete realities of the city. “A sunset is in the perfect location here,” Brand says. “Needed.” As though the simple, subtle beauty of a single sunset is love enough.
In many ways, this opening scene stands as a metaphor for every other moment in the book. As Brand takes us through the small and large catastrophes of each individual life, we see the characters’ baggage and their flaws, out on display like wares of a pawnshop or greasy car parts in a mechanic shop. Yet we also see moments of love, beautiful not because they are perfect, but because they are needed.
Dionne Brand’s novel is a flawed but beautiful homage to our broken, seeking humanity. It’s not perfect love. But it’s love enough.