Factual tidbits:
This novel was published in 1970. It was an immediate sensation, ultimately selling more than twenty-one million copies in thirty-three languages. The phrase "Love means never having to say you're sorry" has since become proverbial and is now listed in numerous books of quotations, including the canonical Bartlett's.

The year it was published, President Nixon told a press conference that, although he liked the book, he objected to some of the vulgar language (this was before the Watergate tapes). Twenty years later, comedian Billy Crystal chose it as a Christmas present for President Bush. Officially banned in the Soviet Union as "decadent" and "counter-revolutionary." and a pirated edition of Love Story even appeared in China (for circulation among member of the Party).

Personal Stuff:

One of the few classics that I can point to someone or something and say This is where I learned about it, this is why I read it: Skimming and old copy of Readers' Digest, they had a little quiz, "Recognize these lines", first lines of classic novels. I didn't recognize the line, but I had it stuck in my head for the next few days, until I went to the library and found the book:

What can you say about a twenty-five year old girl who died? That she was beautiful. And brilliant. That she loved Mozart and Bach. And the Beatles, and me.

What can you say about a book, any book, other than it touched you, you cried, it meant something? It didn't necessarily mean more than any other book, but it drew me through the emotions much smoother than, say, Norma Klein's Sunshine did, and I cried through the movie too, it has the same seamlessness.

Oliver Barrett IV is the last in a line of Olivers, ashamed by his lineage, the money behind it, and the little roman numerals after his name. He has a very hard time communicating with his father, unsure of his love, but sure of expectations. In college, he meets Jenny Cavilleri, a poor girl of Italian descent, smart, perky, alive.

The two fall in love, get married with his father's disapproval, although the lack of reconciliation is mostly Ollie's doing. They set up house alone, Oliver tries to find a job on his own merits as opposed to his name. Jenny teaches. They contemplate parenthood, and when meeting slight adversity to conception, discover that Jenny has a leukemia and not much longer to live.

The novel glances at issues like social/economic status, young people maturing together, independence, and fillial duties versus love. And pain, the pain of fighting for something and learning and living, loving, and then losing it.

Amusing Postscript:

I find the following hilarious. I just did a search on Google just to see what I'd come up with - this is by far the funniest book review I have ever read:

I think it's some sort of classic, a love story with a boy Oliver Barrett loving a girl Jenny Cavilleri who dies. Don't worry, I read more than just love stories.

The screenplay was written by the author of the best-selling novel, Erich Segal; the movie was directed by Arthur Hiller, and starred Ali McGraw and Ryan O'Neal as Jenny and Oliver.

The story is elemental in its simplicity and starkness of presentation.

Oliver and Jenny are opposites who attract. He is a preppie and hockey jock at Harvard whose family has donated enough money to the university to have buildings named after them. She is an artsy Radcliffe student, smart and mouthy. He is fair, blond and blue-eyed; she is dark, with the long ironed hair and thin mini-skirted legs so popular at the time (1970). He is Protestant, she Catholic. Her widowed father is accepting, loving, supportive; his father is stiff, unemotional, controlling. (His mother speaks one line in the movie, then subsides onto the couch, never to be seen again.)

Oliver and Jenny seem to live in a perfect world that contains no one else. Even Oliver's roommates (who include a young Tommy Lee Jones - with hair!) fade out of the picture rather early; Jenny appears to have no friends at all. The young couple are shown running through the snow, lying intertwined on a couch studying, making love. Although it's the seventies, there's no drinking, no marijuana, no rock music, just a concert with Jenny playing Bach on piano.

Inevitably, this perfect picture begins to fray. Oliver's father disowns him for marrying Jenny, leaving the young couple to work - Jenny teaching, Oliver selling Christmas trees - while Oliver goes to law school. But once he graduates with a Harvard law degree, he is offered a job in New York city, they move to the big apple and begin to live in style. Jenny doesn't seem to have a job there or any friends; as far as we can see she spends her time making Oliver breakfast and trying to get pregnant. Then their doctor tells Oliver the bad news: Jenny's dying. Oddly, he doesn't tell Jenny yet, and counsels Oliver not to either, for now.

Jenny finds out about her unnamed but fatal illness soon enough; she goes into the hospital and within five minutes is dead. No shots of illness, treatments, final rasping breaths, nothing. Just Oliver nodding to Jenny's father in the hallway, tears in his eyes: it's over.

It's an affecting movie: even hard-assed men shamefacedly admit they cried at the end. I think it's partly because there's nothing in the movie to distract from the central relationship except Oliver's troubled interactions with his father. This film doesn't draw on any of the props familiar from so many movies and TV shows: there's no wisecracking best friend, no gay neighbour, no mother to speak of, no pets, no lovers' quarrels, no wasting away, no hair falling out, no puking, no recriminations, no regrets. Far too simple, in other words, but touching for all that.

The movie received seven Academy Award nominations, including best movie, best actor, best actress, best direction, and best screenplay, but won only best original score for Frances Lai's haunting sad music.

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