three-stars
Bookmarks Issue: 
53-July-Aug-2011
By: 
Mary Gordon
user_rating: 
0

missing imageMary Gordon is an English Professor at Barnard College. Her fiction and nonfiction titles include Circling My Mother ( 4 of 5 Stars Selection Nov/Dec 2007), Final Payments (1978), and Reading Jesus: A Writer's Encounter with the Gospels (2009). Gordon has received several notable literary awards, including a Guggenheim Fellowship and an Academy Award for Literature from the American Academy of Arts and Letters.

The Story: As teenagers in the mid-1960s, Miranda and Adam were inseparable first loves--until a devastating betrayal tore them apart. Now in her 50s, Miranda, a happily married epidemiologist with two sons, is visiting Rome to attend a conference. Adam, a brilliant pianist, is also married and living in Rome while his daughter attends music classes. A mutual friend brings them together for the first time since their breakup, and Miranda agrees to join Adam on his daily walks around The Eternal City. All along, Adam is attempting to convince himself that the harm he did to Miranda was not so great. Soon, the former lovers find themselves discussing everything from art and architecture to their shared and painful history.
Pantheon. 320 pages. $25.95. ISBN: 9780307377425

NY Times Book Review 4 of 5 Stars
"Emotionally engaging and smoothly flowing, The Love of My Youth showcases Gordon's power to write with controlled urgency, without dissembling or exaggeration, to reveal truths that are hard to face in the unsparing light of day, but without which we could not see ourselves as we are." Liesl Schillinger

Milwaukee Jrnl Sentinel 3 of 5 Stars
"It is the scenes from their youth that are most engaging. ... The earnestness with which they hope and dream is especially poignant in light of the path they will travel away from each other." Judith Gillespie

Cleveland Plain Dealer 2.5 of 5 Stars
"Two features of this novel--its setup and its heroine--proved killjoys for me. ... Imperfect as it is, The Love of My Youth nonetheless provides us a nice leisurely space to wander--and to wonder." Karen Sandstrom

Los Angeles Times 2.5 of 5 Stars
"The setup of the novel is a bit clumsy, requiring a significant suspension of disbelief. ... As the couple move closer and calculate whether to risk renewed intimacy, the novel's slow unfolding begins to pay off." Julia M. Klein

San Francisco Chronicle 2.5 of 5 Stars
"Though life does of course throw surprising encounters and coincidences our way, the staginess of Gordon's setup is hard to ignore, not least because in the sometimes confusing first chapters, each character delivers long paragraphs of speech packed with exposition. ... Gordon's narrative breathes more naturally when she finally makes the sensible decision, about a third of the way into the book, to give us flashbacks of Adam and Miranda's time together." Sylvia Brownrigg

Critical Summary

Critics described The Love of My Youth as really two stories: the first, a youthful love affair set against the political turmoil of the 1960s, and the second, a personal travel diary interspersed with reflection and regret. Most reviewers preferred the youthful flashbacks, describing the scenes in Rome as contrived, awkward, and filled with inauthentic dialogue. "No one talks like this," remarked the critic from the Cleveland Plain Dealer. Armchair travelers or those hoping for deep character studies will probably be disappointed in this novel, but those interested in the social and political structure of the 1960s might find some worthy insight within these pages.