Love Story: Plotline without characters

Erich Segal’s Love Story is what book jacket blurb writers describe as “a slender novel.”

The story is narrated by Oliver Barrett IV, a high IQ, prep-schooled, WASP rich kid who is a pre-law student at Harvard.

Checking out a book at the Radcliffe library, he checks out the girl at the desk, Jennifer Cavilleri, a music major from Cranston, Rhode Island, which, in Oliver’s family’s world is the wrong side of Boston.

The pair exchange insults and fall madly into bed.

Oliver splits with his all-too-perfect father over his decision to marry Jennifer.

Oliver Barrett III will not pay Oliver’s law school tuition.

The couple scrounge to put Oliver through law school.

He makes the Law Review, graduates third in his class, and gets a good job.

Then they find out Jen has leukemia.

I’ve not seen Love Story the movie, but it would almost have to be better than the book.

Oliver is a self-absorbed, over-age adolescent. There’s nothing in the novel to account for his rocky relationship with his father, which is the pivot on which the story turns.

Segal’s novel was ideally suited for the movies: It’s really just a plot line lacking characters to bring it to life.

Reviewer’s note: I learned after writing this review that Paramount had already approved Love Story for production when they asked Segal to turn the script into a novel as a marketing tool. Released on Valentine’s Day in 1970, it stayed 41 weeks on the New York Times bestseller list.

Love Story by Erich Segal
Harper & Row, 1970; 131 p.
My grade: C+.

© 2018 Linda Gorton Aragoni

The Promise: Cultural clash on personal level

In The Chosen, Chaim Potok explored how two brilliant teenage boys struggled to find a way to reconcile their orthodox Jewish faith with their academic interests.

NYC sidewalk scene on cover of The Promise
Cover for Potok’s 1969 bestseller about two young Orthodox Jewish scholars.

The Promise again brings Reuven Malther and Danny Saunders, now both graduate students, together around a problem to which they respond differently.

Reuven meets a famous Jewish scholar who, though unable to believe in the Jew’s God or their theology, believes in Judiasm’s ethics and culture.

Prof. Gordon’s son has mental problems.

Through Reuven, the Gordons learn of Danny, who is doing brilliant work in psychotherapy. They agree to letting Danny isolate Michael until he opens up to Danny.

The very idea appalls Reuven.

He has his own problems.

The man who will determine whether he passes the smicha exam and becomes a rabbi is an ultra-Orthodox Jew who has violently attacked Reuven’s father for heretical views.

Potok weaves these and many more threads together into a exploration of friendship, father-son relationships, faith and orthodoxy, and the potentially lethal consequences of the zeal of the persecuted becoming a club by which they can persecute others.

The Promise is as good on second—or seventh—reading as on the first.

The Promise by Chaim Potok
Alfred A. Knopf, 1969. 368 pp. 1969 bestseller #8. My grade A.

© 2017 Linda Gorton Aragoni


Mr. Crewe’s Career shows politics is not kind

Mr. Crewe is not the hero of the Winston Churchill novel that bears his name, nor is he heroic.

While Crewe has a good brain, a fortune, and aptitude for hard work, he also has one serious handicap: Mr. Humphrey Crewe doesn’t have a lick of sense.

Mr. Crewe’s Career by Winston Churchill
1908 bestseller #1. Project Gutenberg Ebook #3684. My grade: B.

1800's era railroad train

Churchill’s real story is about lawyer Austen Vane, whose father is lobbyist for the Imperial Railroad, and Victoria Flint, daughter of the railroad’s CEO.

Predictably, Austen and Victoria fall in love.

The romance, however, is secondary to the young people’s relationships to their respective fathers.

Austen wins a case against the railroad, and Victoria starts asking her father embarrassing questions.

The railroad lobby, in the person of Hilary Vane, controls the state’s Republican Party and the statehouse.

Austen and Victoria both realize they need to set their own course without cutting off relationships with their fathers.

Meanwhile, Crewe, stymied by the railroad lobby in his efforts to pass reform legislation, declares himself candidate for governor.

Churchill uses Crewe’s career as a way to get an inside picture of the political machine.

It’s not a pretty picture.

Churchill wisely refrains from ending the novel with universal happiness. Too many of the characters have too many regrets for that.

© 2016 Linda Gorton Aragoni

Loose Ends Amplify Theme of Kindred of the Dust

Kindred of the Dust is an old-fashioned romance about love that’s based on trusting the loved one’s character.

Pile of oak logs
Oak logs

Hector McKaye is the richest lumberman Washington state and first citizen of Port Agnew.  His son, Donald, is like him in business acumen, integrity, and rejection of humbug.

Donald is smitten by Nan Brent, a poor local girl with beauty, brains, character, and a bastard son.

Hector admires Nan but won’t have his beloved son tarred by association with a fallen woman.

Son Donald is “man enough to scorn public opinion, but human enough to fear it.”

Because this is a romance, we know Donald will defy his father and that eventually Hector will come round.

But Peter B. Kyne gives an unexpected twist to the plot by presenting the story from a male perspective: The central love story is that of father and son. The details of the Nan-Donald marriage come out in the context of the father-son relationship.

Against these two love stories, Kyne pipes a counter melody of Hector’s marriage and the marriage of Hector’s plant manager.

Kindred of the Dust is not a great novel, but it’s far from ordinary.

Kyne explores issues of morality and hypocrisy in both public opinion and personal behavior.

He leaves several intriguing loose ends as unspoken testimony to the fact that if you believe in a person’s integrity, you accept that person’s word without demanding proof.

Kindred of the Dust
By Peter B. Kyne, Illustrated by Dean Cornwell
New York: Grosset & Dunlap, 1920
47 chapters
Project Gutenberg eBook #13532
1920 bestseller #2
My grade: B

Photo credit: Oak logs by stroinski

© 2014 Linda Gorton Aragoni


A Gentleman of Courage Has Few Other Good Points

James Oliver Curwood’s A Gentleman of Courage is the love story of two youngsters who are informally adopted by the residents of a community on an inlet off Lake Superior.
Peter and Mona
The boy, Peter MacRae, is the son of a man wanted for murder. He sends Peter to a friend who owns the lumber mill at Five Fingers before disappearing.

Entering Five Fingers, Peter sees orphan Mona Guyon being molested. Although Aleck Curry is older and stronger than he, Peter rushes to her assistance, winning her everlasting devotion.

Peter is required to prove his courage several more times before the novel ends.

Peter and Mona are planning their wedding when Donald MacRae returns, weak and ill but longing for sight of his son. The police, led by Aleck Curry, are on his trail.

Curwood has difficulty making the children’s behavior fit both their ages and the plot. Either they appear way too old or way too young.

He draws other characters with such broad strokes they appear as caricatures. Fortunately Curwood includes enough action that the underdeveloped characters are not obvious until the book’s end.

The novel is good enough to keep readers turning pages, but not good enough to make them remember what they read a week later.

Peter returns to Five Fingers
Five Fingers greets Peter on his return after the forest fire.
A Gentleman of Courage: A Novel of the Wilderness
By James Oliver Curwood
Illustrations from original paintings by Robert W. Stewart
Cosmopolitan Book Corp., 1924
1924 bestseller #5
My grade: B-

© 2014 Linda Gorton Aragoni