I am delighted to see the third edition of A man, a sea, a love reissued this year. It is for my dear readers, more intelligent and kinder than I could have imagined, that I have modified this book as time has passed. The third edition, which I approve in full, introduces two small but important changes to the original novel as conceived. These changes influence both the structure and character of the novel, improving on it in ways that I could not have understood when the novel was first finished on that small property in southwest Missouri.
The Acknowledgements have been slightly modified to reflect the changing circumstances of my life. In my thanks, I have removed the name of my second wife, Jane, to whom I was married at the time of publication. Her name has been replaced by that of my third wife, Kristin. Though this change may appear minor at first blush, I believe, upon a close reading, that the change is important, as it was Kristin, not Jane, who is the animating spirit for the final successful marriage at the end of the book. Though Kristin was not present during the drafting, editing, and publication of the novel, and, in fact, though I did not meet her until five years ago, it is the image of an ideal woman, Kristin, that leads the narrator to finally cease his dissolute life and settle down in the colonial with the French doors, the small vegetable garden, and the library with a view of the river. Such a room, or settling into such a room, seems only possible with a woman like Kristin, and the Acknowledgements have been modified to reflect this reality. Though I have not changed the words, I believe the spirit of the novel has been transformed by this small emendation.
The second modification, which was included after a long cold war with my vociferously objecting publisher, the details of which are too sordid to get in to here, will no doubt come to the attention and perhaps confound even the most casual readers. The pages, 362-425, which in prior versions chiefly concerned the life of M. Plank and his courtship and affair with M. Santiago, are all now blank. On the surface this change seems perhaps, silly, a joke. Upon deep reflection, and a close reading of the novel, I concluded that those pages did not effectively depict the inner workings, the elliptical thoughts, and the artistic development of my protagonist during that time in his life. Instead of the inner workings of his soul, I’d mistakenly described frequent trips to the whore house, a series of drunken and debauched evenings in public gardens, and fits of love that leave M. Plank pleading from the ground floor of a moonlight square for M. Santiago to please approach the window.
These pages leave out the long afternoons the protagonist spent contemplating Gaudi’s masterpiece, watching light gather at the apex of the Cathedral, God-like. Nor do they account for the hours spent wandering the Barrio Gothic, skimming through the narrow streets like a skiff, peering down one of them at a sunset, in the foreground, the water glistening, and a small tree leaning against a building. Nor do they describe a visit to the Palau Nacional, watching the reflection of that classic, inspired masterpiece ripple in a reflecting pool. It was these small moments in time, visits to art museums, contemplations of light playing on the underside of a tree, a woman’s forearm dappled in light, mere ripples in the flow of a day, that truly defined the artistic development of M. Plank, reshaping his relationship to the world.
However, rather than rewriting the text, which has always been, to my mind, in poor taste, I have chosen to remove the sections entirely. In doing so, I suspect that the perfect reader might sense the residue of the things that language fails to describe, the deeper meaning of those quiet months spent in the company of flowers, of water, of the poetry of life made visible after the dissolution of his first marriage. Somewhere, or so I believe now, lies the change that happens to him, which is the soul of this book, a change so profound that words fail me, as they often have.
April 12, 1978
Andrew Bertaina’s work has appeared or is forthcoming in many publications, including The Best American Poetry 2018, The ThreePenny Review, Tin House online, Redivider, and Green Mountains Review. More of his work is available at www.andrewbertaina.com.