Yesterday, I was one of those lonely people. Now you’re lying next to me, making love to me.
Well, clearly you’re not. Not the last time I checked, anyway.
But: if you doubt what’s in my heart, you can break it open – but be careful when you do, ‘cause inside there’s a girl who looks like you. Or: You are my sweetest downfall. I loved you first. Or even: Today, I thought I saw you standing on the corner. I was just about to call your name.
My thoroughly scientific methodology of flipping through some records shows at least a 2/3 to 1/3 mix of ‘songs that are addressed to you’ compared with songs that aren’t. And this includes quite a lot of folk songs, which, given their generally higher content related to ploughing, highwaymen, and hats trimmed with green willow, you would expect to skew the results against the ‘you’ bracket considerably. (Incidentally, I feel bound to pass on to you that my research reveals all Hawksley Workman needs is you and the candles, which is nice; that Paul Kelly will be your lover now, a concept worth investigating at least; and that Hem know you’ll bury someone for them, which is nothing if not disturbing).
Common in songwriting, and we all accept it.
So. Why not books? I’m counting on the fingers of, well, two fingers, how many books I can think of that do the same.
We could discount that subset of songs addressed to a named person, while still using ‘you’ to address them; I guess we quite easily buy into ‘overhearing’ someone addressing someone else as ‘you’ while not thinking it’s ‘us’. The ‘you’ who is Regina Spektor’s sweetest downfall is Samson. The ‘you’ to whom the Muttonbirds reckon they’re not lying is Ngaire; the ‘you’ they said they’d take dancing is Jackie; the ‘you’ with whom they used to be the best of friends is Esther. (Busy blokes).
So let's call books in which two characters write letters to each other the same sort of thing as songs-addressed-to-a-named-‘you’: again, we know the ‘you’ isn’t ‘us’. (This also means, thankfully, that we can discount Clarissa, the fifteen zillion pages of which I finally left behind at the last emigration, conceding that still being approximately one-ninth into it after almost eleven freaking years is an indication that there isn’t enough time in all the world to get through the whole thing).
If on a winter’s night a traveler is one book that really throws the kitchen sink at it, and it’s a whole kitchen sink of weird, actually telling you want you’re doing and narrating your movements to you, without your permission. The only other I can think of is After Summer (or After January, depending on your hemisphere), which has as I recall two passages addressed to ‘you’. And it’s sort of the same as a love song, the main character addressing another character in the story and trying to put into words why he liiiikes her. The first time it happens in the narrative I always find it jarring for about a sentence, and then just go along with it.
Could you read a book done that way, the whole way through, d’you reckon? A whole novel addressed by one character to another, using ‘you’? Or can all that sort of thing just come to nothing good in the end?