Love May Fail
When I got an advance copy of Love May Fail, by Matthew Quick, from HarperCollins publishers, I got just the antidote I needed to what I saw as the “love excuses everything” theme in Love Walked In. In this novel, love doesn’t excuse you from anything but actually adds responsibilities, like trying to fix what’s wrong for the people you love. Of course, love can’t fix everything. But that doesn’t stop the characters from trying to remedy some of the worst things that have happened to people they love.
The novel starts with a woman watching her husband’s infidelity. Portia Kane confronts his girlfriend, destroys some of his prized possessions, and leaves his house, returning to her mother’s house. Living there for a while causes her to meet again some of the people she knew in high school and think about a favorite teacher named Mr. Vernon–a man who she has long regarded as the opposite of her cynical husband. Mr. Vernon quoted Hemingway to teach high school students that “you gotta believe once in a while, kids.” She finds out that some years after her graduation, a disillusioned student pointed out that if Mr. Vernon calls them all “extraordinary” then none of them are and one day he came into class and beat Mr. Vernon with a baseball bat, after which he gave up teaching.
Portia wonders why she never went back and thanked Mr. Vernon for all he did for her:
“Do people actually do that—go back and thank their teachers years later, when they’re no longer handicapped by youth and ignorance, when they figure out just how much their teachers actually did for them?”
The answer, of course, is that more people should, and Portia sets out to try.
Along the way she meets lots of new people to love, and learns how to love some of the people she couldn’t love as well as they deserved the first time around. She does catch up with Mr. Vernon before he succeeds in killing himself, but she can’t find a way to connect what is left of him with the idealistic young teacher she remembers. At one point, he describes himself as “a man who forever monitored the great conversation and yet never added a line himself.”
Portia and some of Mr. Vernon’s other former students try to thank him, but they can’t get through to him, and the harder Portia tries, the more frightened Mr. Vernon becomes until he has to run away and hide. Then she changes tactics. She decides that the way to “save” him is to write a novel and dedicate it to him, which she does. The novel is called Love May Fail.
This is the part of Quick’s own novel that’s hard to review, because he describes in great detail how discouraging it is for an author to get bad reviews. When the reviews start coming in, Portia says “I don’t know if I can handle this….How public this is. I didn’t realize how awful it is to be reviewed like this. I spent so much time on this book. It’s the best thing that ever came out of me.” As if that’s not enough, then “all of the advance-copy reader reviews begin popping up on the Internet via various websites and blogs, and those are even uglier.” It’s like the author is saying “aw, have a heart, advance-reader reviewer”…or else, as one review of Portia’s book is criticized for the quality of the writing: “you’d think a reviewer of books would be able to write better. And I wonder why no one reviews the reviews.”
Portia’s Love May Fail is not a critical success, but Mr. Vernon does eventually read it, and Portia has, after all, written a book (one of her childhood ambitions). Just because love may fail, this novel says, is no reason not to express love, or thanks, or all of what a person is feeling. As the nun who both witnesses and brings about some of the coincidences in the plot of the novel says, “Opportunities like this don’t come along very often. Chances to resurrect people. Make them whole again. In my experience, it’s best to do it with a little style and flair—panache even, don’t you think? Heighten the experience. Make it memorable—epic. Be a little romantic about it.” Kind of like writing a novel about students and teachers and dedicating it to his own, as Matthew Quick does here.
Have you ever tried to thank a favorite teacher?