Tuesday, August 16, 2016

#229 / Two Roads And Sixteen Pleasures

Since I am preparing to visit Italy this summer, my son lent me a novel, which he said would "get me in the mood." The book he lent me is called The Sixteen Pleasures, by Robert Hellenga, and the promotional material on the back cover promised me a story about a young American woman who goes to Italy, and who discovers a "Renaissance masterwork: a sensuous volume of sixteen erotic poems and drawings." Another paragraph says that the main character, Margot, "embarks on the intrigue of a lifetime with a forbidden lover and the contraband volume - a sensual, life-altering journey of loss and rebirth in [an] exquisite novel of spiritual longing and earthly desire."

All that sounds pretty good to me - right up my alley, in fact - but while I am enjoying the book so far (I am up to page 100), I haven't yet run across anything that really justifies the book-jacket promises. Not yet! I am going to keep reading!

While I haven't found the features advertised, I have run across Robert Frost, and specifically his poem,  The Road Not Taken. Frost's poem is featured in the book. You know the poem, I'm sure: 

The Road Not Taken 

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;

Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim,
Because it was grassy and wanted wear;
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same,

And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way,
I doubted if I should ever come back.

I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.

Hellenga tells us that "Margot," the main character, has always posited a second self, whom she calls "Margaux," who does all the adventurous things that our main character has only thought about, but has never actually done. On page 76, Margot "suddenly realizes something I should have known all along."

Mama always maintained that anyone who'd heard Frost read "The Road Not Taken," as she had, would know that the last line was ironic, a joke, but I'd never understood what she meant till now. There is no "road not taken," there's only this road. The road not taken is a fantasy.

That insight, it seems to me, is worth the book. BUT....I still going to keep reading, hoping for all that erotic stuff, too!

Image Credit:


  1. I read this book a long time ago, and really liked it. I think the jacket copy is misleading. The pleasures of the book are of a much more contemplative type. Looked over a few of the comments on GoodReads. Many people seem to have been disappointed, but the ones who gave it higher ratings seem to have really understood what Hellenga was getting at. I need to read more of him.

    1. I am getting near the end. You're right. The book jacket isn't a good basis upon which to judge the book. Never judge a book by it's cover, I think they tell us. QUITE a nice book, nonetheless!

  2. "a joke ...a fantasy"? Looking back from my 80 years, I find the roads not taken to be innumerable, and fascinating. If one can look back without guilt or regret, it is a fun old age pastime. Maybe, Margot, when she ages sufficiently, will be able to see them.

    1. Now that I am further on in the book, it's even clearer what she is saying. It's not that there aren't choices left behind, it's that one shouldn't imagine that those other roads would have been "better," or more fulfilling. We have one life, comprised of our choices, and we should celebrate OUR life, not pine and be pissed for a life we didn't have. It's a good book!


Thanks for your comment!