Love Story, this 133-page short novel by Erich Segal, was recommended to me by my good friend Anton, when we were talking about some of our favorite books and authors over a few bottles of beer. Eventually, we found ourselves talking about relationships, and asked him about his girlfriend. He said they were okay, but still teased him about, like I always do my straight, male friends, how he and the rest of the heterosexual species of metrosexual, misogynistic, chauvinistic, narcissistic, egotistic, sadist, and heartless bastards (I’m kidding) have no romantic bone in their bodies. To which he retorted, “No, I’m actually a romantic. In fact, I have read this book called Love Story. I can’t quite remember the name of the author, but I think, if memory serves me right, his name was Erich Segal. It’s good. Quite a love story, really. Very romantic.” He told me the synopsis, and told him that I’d look it up and that I’d never pegged him for a romantic. A few days later, I got a copy of the book and read it in just half a day.
Love Story is a love story based on the premise that “love means never having to say you’re sorry.” It’s about the short-lived romance between two people who come from different worlds and who are almost opposite in every way. Oliver Barrett IV, a Harvard student who has set his eyes on becoming a lawyer, is the scion of a very old rich WASP family, while Jenny Cavilleri, a Radcliffe music student, is the daughter of humble baker and single father.
Surprisingly, Erich Segal chose to start the story with a tragedy. The narrator of the story, Oliver, began by eulogizing 25-year old Jenny and then proceeded immediately by telling how his love affair with the beautiful and intelligent girl at the Radcliffe library began. With the title, one would expect a happy ending, but this is not the case. Perhaps, the author didn’t want to disillusion the reader with a Cinderella type of ending like all love stories do. Still, this didn’t bother me. It actually made me even more curious so it continued to engage me. and turn one page to the next. It wasn’t also painful to read because of the choice of simple and unapologetic prose of the author. The progression of the story is fast but easy to follow, and the characters’ dialogues and diction reveals the kind of person they really are, what they were thinking, feeling, and hiding.
When Oliver and Jenny first met at the library, it becomes easy to fall in love with the two characters because they seem both charming, smart, and likable. When Oliver tries to borrow a book at the Radcliffe library from Jenny who happens to be the girl working that day, they got into an argument. Jenny, the smart-mouthed intellectual, talked down at Oliver, a guy who got into the habit of studying at the Radcliffe library, about the ethics of of borrowing books from a small school. “Listen, Harvard is allowed to use the Radcliffe library.” said Oliver. I’m not talking legality, Preppie. I’m talking ethics. You guys have 5 million books. We have a lousy thousand,” replied Jenny.
All throughout the book, you see the two main characters go on and on with their verbal arguments where the guy sometimes calls the girl a bitch sometimes and the girl constantly calls the guy a preppie, a term that to her means a stupid, rich guy who went to prep school. Although these terms may have offended each other when they first met, they somehow become terms of endearment for each other.
Love Story is not your average love story where a poor girl meets a rich boy, get married, and live happily ever after. Far from it. The title is both an irony and an aphorism. Ironic because people have this notion that love stories are supposed to be this fairy tale and that works of fiction must, especially of the romance genre, must be these romantic comedies. But, it is not. In fact, Oliver, the privileged guy who was born in the country with an ancestral manor, and addressed as “Master Oliver” by the servants, married Jenny against the wishes of his overachieving and emotionally distant father, renounced his inheritance, and put himself through Law School with the help of his young wife; and, aphoristic because a love story in real life doesn’t always have a happy ending, lovers are bound to be fraught with objections from friends and family, and someone would inevitably have to die before the other, if not both at the same time. It reflects the truth that when you love, you also risk getting hurt.
I think, in the end, what makes this book a page-turner is the honesty, sincerity, and the heart and soul of the characters — they were, in truth, even more pleasantly real than us real human beings. The prose of the author was simplistic yet powerful, and he triumphantly and universally mirrored both romantic idealism and romantic realism. This book not only celebrates the differences between two people, but more importantly, it celebrates love, life, and the meaning of true love — never having to say you’re sorry. Moving, touching, sad, funny, and yes, truly romantic, this beautifully written love story, albeit the characters’ unorthodox choice of “sweet and loving words” defies how a real enduring, love story should be. After more than 35 years, a film made out of this book with the same title, and 21 million copies sold later, Love Story still continues to make hopeless romantics, singles, couples, readers (and film viewers) and people from all corners of the globe smile, laugh, and unabashedly cry. I’m warning you now. If you read this book, prepare a box of Kleenex — and to helplessly shed a tear or two.
Rating: 5 of 5 stars