Erich Segal’s novel/screenplay Love Story has recently been adapted to a musical, and is the first show next season at the theater I go to. Just as with The Thirty-Nine Steps, I feel obligated to read it first. [Did I ever mention what I thought of that? It’s different from the book, but hands down the funniest play I’ve ever seen.] The only thing I knew going in was the theme song, which is one of the few I could play on the organ at my grandparents’ house.
Oliver Barrett IV and Jennifer Cavilleri are two college students in Cambridge who come from very different backgrounds. Oliver is a wealthy legacy student at Harvard, a hockey star and shoe-in for Law School next year. Jenny is a poor music major at Radcliffe, the only daughter of an Italian immigrant. Oliver feels he is never good enough for his father, while Jenny and her dad are extremely close. Against all odds, the two meet and fall in love. Both have a somewhat sarcastic sense of humor , but beneath it they come to mean the world to each other. As they attempt to carve out a life together, they will have to make more sacrifices than they’ve ever dreamed of. [That’s a really bad summary. Basically if you like somewhat sappy love stories you will like this book, and if not you should skip it. It’s kind of The Notebook of the 1970s.]
This is far from the typical romance novel, and yet Oliver and Jenny come across as memorably as any great leading man and leading lady in classic literature. Their matter-of-fact approach to love reminded me a little of Holden Caufield, probably because this was written in 1970. The are no Austenesque declarations of passion, no angst-ridden longings, just two people who need each other and make each other better. Perhaps that everyday quality is what makes their romance more appealing.
The big tagline for both the book and the movie is a quote from Jenny after an argument they have, “Love means never having to say you’re sorry.” Problem is, I don’t really agree with that. (Of course, I’m one of those people who chronically apologizes for everything). My personal feeling is that love (any kind) means you’ll forgive the person for whatever has happened and move on, no matter what, but it’s not healthy if there’s no apology or at least admittance that something wasn’t right.
I like to think that I’m past the days of bawling like a baby over Where the Red Fern Grows and Anne of Green Gables. Every time I read a sad book or see a sad movie I will myself to be strong and cynical and not have my emotions toyed with. I honestly thought I was going to make it through this without crying. When I reached the last few chapters, though, I was sobbing my heart out; whenever a character breaks down I lose it. The relationship struggles between Oliver and his father touched me just as much as the romance. I think I will need to take tissues with me to the theater.
To be honest, I’d rather be romantic and emotional rather than cynical and jaded. My friends always knew me as the girl who cried at movies. (They named a system after me for rating how sad and how violent movies were.) Somewhere along the way I got it into my head that I needed to grow out of this trait, perhaps the same part of me that rebelled at reading happily-ever-after stories. Lately, though, I’m coming to realize that I liked that person I was more that the person I sometimes am now. Being openly emotional was always sort of cathartic, and it’s okay to keep that.
Love Story is on the Guardian List (Love).