marginalia || Love Story, by Erich Segal

I’m not even supposed to own this book, for goodness’ sake. I’d seen this thin paperback with its happy little cover displayed for months now, and I kept thinking, Meh. But two nights ago. God, ‘twas a weak night. I panicked. I was chilling at a coffee shop, and I soon realized that the book I had with me wasn’t one I wanted to have with me. I ran to the bookstore next door. Went home with three (eek) books. One of them is this: Love Story, the 21-million-sold novel of Erich Segal (bless his soul).

What I know about Love Story: 1] Segal was both celebrated and scorned for it—that tedious debate between “commercial” and literary. 2] “Love means never having to say you’re sorry,” which has been used and abused to death—I remember characters in a Tagalog movie using this line, as well as others from movies like Jerry Maguire. But I digress.

Jenny dies. Let’s just get that out of the way (I mean, Segal does, in the first line). And after a short reflection on this beautiful girl who’s died, Oliver Barrett IV plunges us into WASP-ish turf wars. Which I know nothing about. And for which I would have left this book alone, especially since in those first few pages, I was reminded of a much more loaded. Holden Caulfield. Whom I don’t much like. But I digress. Again.

“I’m at Chapter 6,” I wrote in my notebook at the beginning of Chapter Six. “I am waiting to be charmed.” See, I was very very very dubious coming into this book. It’s Love Story, and at first glance, it seems like a distillation of all the tired tropes on love we’ve all endured: Boy Meets Girl, Boy and Girl Have Class Divide, Boy and Girl Laugh at the Face of Society and Get Jiggy With It, Boy and Girl Scrounge for a While. Ollie, in Unpredictable Narrator tones, even predictably hates his father:

“Jenny, don’t you believe I love you?” I shouted.

“Yes,” she replied, still quietly, “but in a crazy way you also love my negative social status.”

I couldn’t think of anything to say but no. I said it several times and in several tones of voice. I mean, I was so terribly upset, I even considered the possibility of there being a grain of truth to her awful suggestion.

And as with all stories of enduring love, they defy class norms and get together:

. . . Jenny and I were nonetheless kind to each other. I simply say “kind,” because I lack the vocabulary to describe what loving and being loved by Jeniffer Cavilleri is like. Sorry, I mean Jennifer Barrett.

Aww. Ahem. Oliver won me over, though. He’s got this aloof kind of loving for the brassy Jenny. You know he’s mad about her, but he’s dry and WASP-ish and a little snooty about it. And he can be so stubborn. But Jenny sees right through it. Oliver and Jenny take shape as characters so slowly, almost fleetingly, before you know it, they’re whole to you. Clap clap!

♦ It seems remiss if I don’t give you this, and so here it is:

The pain of not knowing what to do was exceeded only by that of knowing what I had done. . .

I stood there at the bottom of the steps, afraid to ask how long she had been sitting, knowing only that I had wronged her terribly.

“Jenny, I’m sorry—”

“Stop!” She cut off my apology, then said very quietly, “Love means never having to say you’re sorry.”

Yes, I buried my face in the pillow and squealed. So. God. Mr. Segal, wherever you are now, I am sorry to have underestimated your power to make me squeal at the slightest provocation. It seems like I’d been waiting for the elaboration to that line my whole life, haha. My goodness, you even made me sniffle. Because Jenny dies. You told us that at the very first sentence, and I knew she was going to die, but it was still devastating. It always is.

I wanted to hug Oliver. To the very end, there’s that aloofness, the wry way he has of talking about loving and being loved by Jenny. The knowledge that no words could possible equate the actuality. Oh, so WASP, so dignified, so stubborn. And that just made me feel more. It’s like seeing a little boy fighting not to show anguish or defeat or tears or effusive adoration, struggling not to cry.

And what pop culture never told me about that immortal line was its echo within the book. Right at the edge of it, in fact. I flipped the page even though I could see there wasn’t anything printed at the back, but I kept hoping. “Oh my god,” I breathed.

I take it back, what I said about this being the Usual shtick. It’s not. It’s simple, and as multi-layered as I want it to be. It’s restrained and just bursting to announce what This Love is. It’s understated, calm, sometimes cocky, and it all builds up to an emotional sucker punch that just has you going around in a daze, telling anyone who’d bother to listen, “I just read Love Story. Love means never having to say we’re sorry! You hear me?!

Heh. Impulse pays off.


* * You know what? Nicholas Sparks totally ripped this off when he assembled wrote A Walk to Remember. Totally. Oh, and here’s a wonderfully passive-aggressive piece on Sparks, who really needs to be thrown into a cage match with Cormac McCarthy.

19 thoughts on “marginalia || Love Story, by Erich Segal

  1. My friends and I read this a bunch of times in high school and squealed too. We discussed it endlessly. Kind of sappy, yes, but it works.

  2. “…Spark, who really needs to be thrown into a cage match with Cormac McCarthy.” ROFL!! I know it’s wrong to despise an author I’ve never read, but oh, how I loathe Sparks. I’ve never sat through one of his books, but I’ve unfortunately seen one of his movies. Horrible, awful cliche made-to-make-you-cry movies. *shivers*

    In any case, I’ve heard that line a number of times, but I never knew it was from a book. In fact, I thought it came from a movie. If you hadn’t said that it totally defied your expectations as the usual shtick, I might have ignored this one. As it is, I’ve definitely added it to my TBR list.

    Great review.

    1. Thanks, Joy. :) I remember, being ten or something, and reading A Walk to Remember. I was bawling so hard. And then I grew up, haha. And then I realized Sparks kept going on and on and on with his usual formula. It got pretty insulting to us readers soon enough. I think I’ve read two Sparks novels? And been forced to sit through about four? Man. Gah. No subtlety to the emotional manipulation at all.

      I hope you like Segal–the book tends to be sappy, but I never minded, because it was so simply-put, never self-important. It allowed me to traipse into the narrative and just wonder about the rest of the story that wasn’t told. And, yeah, I sniffled.

  3. Nice plot twist in your review there! ;)

    “…Spark, who really needs to be thrown into a cage match with Cormac McCarthy.” I can insult him because I have read two Sparks books and sat through Dear John which was the most hilarious movie I’ve ever seen in my entire life.

    1. Yes, we who have suffered Sparks in any form or media have the right to mock him for all eternity! We ought to form a club for this, haha.

  4. Not gonna lie…never knew Love Story was a book first. I just put it on my Netflix queue about an hour ago, too. I’ve seen it before…just don’t remember much about it.

    As for Sparks, I find it HILARIOUS that his whole brand has become so self aware that he actually wrote The Last Song specifically for movie adaptation. If that isn’t insulting to booknerds, I don’t know what is. Needless to say, I will probably put it on my queue because…I like Miley.

    1. I think most people know of the movie first. I mean, I haven’t even seen the movie, but that line is just so immortalized.

      Sparks pointing to Shakespeare and Aeschylus and saying, “That’s what I do,” so matter-of-factly–that made me barf. And since we’re admitting, when I was a very young and impressionable girl, I watched A Walk to Remember about ten times, and cried every single time. Oh, hell.

  5. Haha, sounds like quite a read and I’m intrigued although I’m not a romance fan at all. But I love unexpected finds particularly when it turns out so, so unexpectedly good! Any book that makes somebody squeals scores extra points with me. :-)

    1. It’s a very simply-stated story. I mean, it’s not so much a romance, as it is a, well, a love story. :) I guess that’s it–it’s matter-of-factly about luuurve.

  6. Oh yay you liked it! I would never think to compare Segal with Sparks, yikes. Nothing against Mr Sparks himself though I’ve never read him but I would watch his movies, yet never read his books. I’m okay with cheesiness and cliché in movies, ha. (Would watch Tagalog films in the same mindset, lol.)

    I had a Segal phase when I was in high school/college (mm.. around 17 years ago). Read this, The Class, Doctors, Acts of Faith, and Man Woman and Child (The Class and Doctors were my fave, but not sure how I would react to them now). My copy of Love Story was given by my ex! But I left it in Davao. I have another here which I got for a dollar in a book fair and it is old and the pages are crumbling and yellow, but this book is near and dear to my heart. That copy you have, though, is so pretty!

    1. I really do think Nicholas Sparks ripped the plot and themes for his A Walk to Remember. Sparks won’t ever be Segal. I mean, this is my first Segal, and it’s a thin book, but he owns Sparks, for god’s sake. I’m okay with cheesy, but Sparks is so formulaic. I suppose I like this “distillation” of Segal. He used an age-old story, but told it so simply and so heartfelt, that, well, there.

      This one’s cover is partly why I gave in and bought it. It’s pretty, yes, and the cover is matte so it looks and feels nice too. :)

  7. I just read this book this year and absolutely loved the dialogue. (I think overall most authors don’t get dialogue right and here, well, it wowed me!)

    Your cover is a helluva lot prettier than mine though!

    1. I did think that Segal took advantage of using the dialogue to expand the characterizations, and it was all very effortless. I do admit I was taken aback whenever Oliver called Jennifer “bitch.” But I got the gist that it was their kind of sweet-talking, haha.


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