This is the premise behind Lauren Oliver’s latest novel, Delirium, and instead of providing concrete answers, it’s given me some serious food for thought
The word ‘delirium’ has two definitions, according to Merriam-Webster’s dictionary. Definition number one: ‘an acute mental disturbance characterized by confused thinking and disrupted attention usually accompanied by disordered speech and hallucinations’. Sounds fun. Definition number two — ‘frenzied excitement’ — is much more my cup of tea. However, these dueling determinations are both present in Lauren Oliver‘s latest book, Delirium, and both are used in reference to love. Is loving someone something dirty? Is it a disease that can rip you apart or something exciting and intoxicating? Or can it be both?
17-year-old Lena is 90 days away from her 18th birthday, where she’ll have the ‘procedure’ that rids her of the ability to love. In Oliver’s dystopian novel, set in a far-flung Maine of the future, scientists have discovered the ‘cure’ for the pain of heartache, which involves ripping part of the brain out so that excitement, sexual desire and passion are no more. In Lena’s world, Romeo & Juliet is supposed to be frightening, a cautionary tale of what could happen to you if you desire someone of the opposite sex. She herself has never even spoken to a boy although she will, upon having her procedure, be forced to choose one of four boys, sight unseen, to become her future husband. They will have a passionless marriage, turning out the appropriate number of kiddies based on their jobs and incomes, which are also premeditated.
But then the average-looking Lena meets Alex, a hot young thing who makes her feel beautiful, who causes her to rebel and, eventually, changes her mind about that nature of love. He teaches her not to fear it, but to fear the people who are preventing her from feeling it. But in Lena’s eyes, does she have the same poisonous disease that caused her mother’s death, or is love something beautiful after all?
I see this as a wonderful premise. So many of us have been through heartbreak so awful that we could barely leave our beds for days at a time. There are days when we physically cannot make ourselves cry any more tears. But if we had the option of giving up that potential pain forever, would we?
Pain and pleasure are opposite sides of the same coin; you cannot feel one without the other. I would much rather ache, and hurt and lament my bad fortune because I know those times can’t last forever. There’s also euphoria, bliss, tenderness, passion. To feel nothing would be like taking a life-long Zoloft prescription when I had no symptoms of depression or anxiety in the first place.
Sure, sometimes we’re ‘infected’ by the wrong people — and by ‘wrong’ I mean those who aren’t worthy or don’t reciprocate our feelings– but that’s a part of life. We can’t really help who we fall for, or who connect with. Chemistry is magic. Love is magic, even when it hurts. Who could live a life without it and survive?
I’ll leave you with this, a passage from Delirium. I hope you read it, and that it affects you — or at the very least, makes you think a little differently the next time you curse out loud and swear that you’ll never fall in love again.
“Love: a single word, a wispy thing, a word no bigger or longer than an edge. That’s what it is: an edge; a razor. It draws up through the center of your life, cutting everything in two. Before and after. The rest of the world falls away on either side. Before and after — and during, a moment no bigger or longer than an edge.”