The Loving Frotteur

Synopsis of The Loving Froitteur, a novel by Patrick Keppel

The Loving Froitteur is a tragicomic story of a search for meaning and love in a world in which things and people are carelessly thrown away. It is comprised of a collection of fragments—scraps of paper, napkins, old calendars, etc.—written by a narrator, Isaac Krater, who is offering himself as the subject of the next novel of a novelist, John Joyce, whose modest body of realistic, melodramatic fiction has been published, remaindered, and forgotten.  Joyce has not written in many years, and by submitting his life story the narrator believes he is rescuing the author from obscurity.

Isaac was raised in an affluent family who gave him little love and attention.  Out of his depressed isolation, he developed a fantasy life in which he thought he could hear people’s thoughts (“eyespeak,” he calls it), and in which his father, a coarse, alcoholic man who rarely spoke to him, was on a great spiritual mission to save the planet.  Isaac’s father worked in marketing for a tobacco company, which for supposed legal reasons the text refers to as deletion.  Before he died of cancer, his father was putting the finishing touches on an ad campaign targeting young women from the age of 18 to 24, specifically those who thought smoking “dirty and only for women of loose morals,” and who wanted to be treated kindly and considerately, to be genuinely cared for and loved.   The idea in promoting the product, deletion Lights, was to make the whole act of smoking clean and pure.  Its slogan was  “Light as a cloud”; even the smoke was supposed to be chemically treated to come out more white, more pure, like ivory.  The ads featured pictures of pretty, small, innocent-looking women enjoying sunny days in the park or beach, their gentle suitors bowing at their feet.  When Isaac notices that all the male figures vaguely resembled him, he gets the idea that he himself was to play a great part in his father’s great planetary mission.

As a result, Isaac begins haunting places where he can watch women smoke his father’s brand, observing the pleasure and even rapture they experience as a result, bathing in the ivory smoke of (potential) purity and love.  He believes it is his job was to bring the image into reality, offering himself as a lifelong partner in a normal, loving, considerate relationship.  However, not only do the women fail to respond to him with the presumed love—and in fact invariably choose suitors who clearly have no interest in their purity at all—he also notices that watching them smoke arouses him.  This puzzles him for a while until it occurs to him (in part because the women confess this to him through “eyespeak”) that these young women themselves were ironically aroused by the act of smoking his father’s brand—that despite appearances, they were actually caught in the coils of impurity and were struggling to get free.  His own arousal was thus the result of a perfect sympathy with them, a coalescence of their inability to measure up to the ideal they’d set up for themselves.

Therefore, he begins a quest to find the way to purge himself and others of base desire in order to get to the elusive pure state of mutual love, which will allow them all to perform their proper roles in his father’s great spiritual Plan.  He spends several comic years in a cult called the Ranch of God, which outlines a system of beliefs and behavior which will lead him to enlightenment, or absorption into a real or metaphorical “Cloudship” from which human affairs are directed (naturally he imagines his father is on board).  His zealous acceptance of Ranch philosophy, and enthusiastic desire to resolve some of its inconsistencies, ironically leads to his exile from the Ranch.  From there his quest brings himself closer to the fire (of base desire, but also, potentially, of purgation):  he begins to pick up the discarded cigarette butts of the targeted women and smoke them by himself in back alleys in a private, redemptive ceremony he calls “Production”; then he begins to touch the smokers surreptitiously at nightclubs.  He is eventually arrested for this behavior and sent to a psychiatric hospital, where he is diagnosed by the establishment as a mild, but treatable schizophrenic, a “frotteur,” (though in his view a “Loving Frotteur”).

Once he leaves there, Isaac’s quest brings him into a coherent society of broken people, young and old—artistic, abused, depressed, unstable, unloved—who exist in on the tattered fringe of contemporary urban life.  It is from this fringe that Isaac sends out his sometimes desperate, sometimes perfectly controlled message-in-a-bottle to Joyce, who is supposed to knit up these fragments into a coherent story of personal redemption.

If interested in reading The Loving Froitteur contact Patrick Keppel: Pkeppel[at]necmusic[dot]edu

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