Before Nicholas Sparks’s The Notebook, there was Erich Segal’s Love Story: the tragic story about Oliver and Jenny. Tragic because Jenny dies. That’s not a spoiler. It’s the first line of the novel – “What can you say about a twenty-five-year-old girl that died?” It’s almost comical how simple the story is. Boy meets girl. They fall in love. She dies. The end. BUT THE PEOPLE LOVED IT. You’ll never find this book as a major discussion point in any English class, but does its own simplicity have something valuable to say about story-telling?
I found a 1970s copy of the book at Goodwill for two dollars. The funny thing is the original price from 1977 was still printed on the front – $1.75. I guess not everything at Goodwill is a good deal. I hadn’t seen the film and though the story wasn’t very exciting for my tastes, the novel seemed like a quick read. Plus, the story of how Love Story came to be is quite interesting from a writing perspective. Erich Segal wrote the screenplay first. In hoping to market the film, Paramount wanted a novel to be released before the film. Maybe this is a lesson for all screenwriters today. Once you finish the original screenplay, create a backup novel version. I mean, what’s the last film you saw that wasn’t based on something else?
In One Sentence: It’s a love story.
Favorite Line: “She closed her book softly, put it down, then placed her hands on the sides of my neck. ‘Oliver — wouldja please.’ It all happened at once. Everything.” pg. 34
Review: The novel reminds me of Twilight. I liked it more than Twilight, it’s a better love story than Twilight, but it has the same literary lore of being a bit too sentimental and plot-less. I had a screenwriting professor who when her students bemoaned the success of the vampire series, she made us reevaluate the discussion. She said, “You don’t have to like it, but you have to understand it.” This seems to me to be the same strategy of how to approach Love Story. Even though I knew the ending, it was a page-turner. Even though the prose is short and to the point, lacking description and quite honestly written like a screenplay, it’s effective. There’s no fluff, besides perhaps what happens in the scenes. I read this over two days, and I enjoyed the pacing, but was left dissatisfied with the ending. Why was this book and film so successful? Because when we read it, we could relate to that feeling of loving someone so completely you can accept them for who they are. “Love means never having to say you’re sorry” is a terrible relationship lesson on the surface, but what it really means is that we can make mistakes and be ourselves and the point isn’t to never make mistakes, but to grow up through them and with each other. I recommend this book, not as a great work of literary genius or even much structural merit, but it won’t take up much time. Plus, even if you don’t like it, it’s important to ask yourself by the end – why did others?
The Book Would Have Ended a Lot Sooner If: Jenny and Oliver had never gotten coffee.
Let’s jam instead: I was going to mention the sequel Oliver’s Story, but this seemed like a more important find.