Tuesday, January 19, 2016

What we're reading: Realistic (?) fiction

I picked up Love May Fail, by Matthew Quick, because we just finished reading a teen book by him (Forgive Me, Leonard Peacock) with our high school book club, and after enjoying the movie version of The Silver Linings Playbook, I was curious to see how his writing differed for adults. And although I enjoyed Leonard Peacock more, I wasn't disappointed by this book, which, despite its hard-to-believe story line and quirky, weird characters, has a dark heart and a strong message about personal responsibility.

You are quickly drawn into the protagonist's story, which begins as she hides in a closet, drunk and armed with a gun, lying in wait for her cheating husband and his "teenage" girlfriend (not really, but from Portia Kane's 40-year-old perspective, she might as well be). Thinking better of killing anybody, Portia packs her things and, at a loss for what else to do, heads for South Jersey, her childhood home.

On the plane, still drunk and maudlin to boot, Portia confides in her seatmate, a spunky old nun, who orders her more vodka and gives her good advice. This encounter seems completely random, but nothing in this story is truly insignificant.

One of Portia's goals in returning home is to reconnect with Mr. Vernon, the high school English teacher she idolized. Now that she's cast adrift from her marriage, she resurrects an old dream of writing a book, and she wants to talk to the man who inspired her all those years ago. But Mr. Vernon has had a traumatic classroom incident that has ended his career and turned him into a curmudgeonly recluse, which state he refuses to give up despite the best efforts of Portia and her old classmates.

It seems at times in this book, as the frustration levels mount and the characters refuse to do what you want them to, that love may fail, but somehow it never does, although the way it expresses itself isn't necessarily the way you'd expect. The final conclusion I drew from the story was that "everything is relative" isn't true: If it's important to you, it's important, and the fact that few others in the world realize its importance ultimately doesn't matter, if you are able to accept, take what you receive, and call it good. I had trouble, at first, with the ridiculous coincidences that bring everyone together in this book, but then as things move along, it really doesn't matter--it's about the results, not about the method. The book may seem artificial and saccharine to some, but I found its message somehow reassuring.

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