Love May Fail by Matthew Quick (3 out of 5)
I’ve read other Matthew Quick books. Silver Linings Playbook is the most known, likely because of the Jennifer Lawrence/Bradley Pooper adaptation. I tried the movie, but I dislike Bradley Pooper so much that I couldn’t make it through. The book didn’t fear much better with me, sadly. However, I loved his novels The Good Luck of Right Now and Forgive Me, Leonard Peacock. So when I heard this was coming out, I immediately emailed some people and got an advance sent to me. I couldn’t make heads or tails out of it for much of the book, which hasn’t happened with a Matthew Quick book SINCE Silver Linings Playbook. The language of some of it was a distraction, along with the headstrong voice of Nate Vernon, the retired and beleaguered professor who is the main voice of this novel.
Nate Vernon is retired on a quiet Vermont farm, after one of his former students goes batshit crazy and beats him so badly with an aluminum bat that he retires. He’s doing alright, until his beloved rescue dog Albert Camus (yes, THE Albert Camus!) takes a header out of the upstairs bedroom window and dies. Nate goes a little crazy, burns his dog’s body in the fireplace, and goes into his house and downs a ton of red wine and pills, in a “suicide pact” with his newly deceased dog. However, driving across country to seek out Vernon, her former English teacher, mentor, and someone whose lessons have come back to her tenfold in face of her nervous breakdown following finding out her husband is cheating on her, in an attempt to salvage her own sad sack of a life, is one Portia Kane. Portia’s story opens up the book. She suspects- correctly so- that her husband is dicking around on her, and she hides in their closet and watches while he screws a 20-something year old in their bed, then pops out and lets him have it. She packs her bags, takes a cab to the airport, and hops on a plane for her hometown. On the plane, she meets a nun who listens to her drunken confession and helps her feel much better about everything. The two part but keep in touch writing and what not. Keep this in mind for later, because it bears a direct mark upon the story. Portia shows up in enough time to save her former English teacher from choking to death on his own vomit, and she informs him that he’s coming on a 3-day tour with her. They tour literary sites, they visit the former high school, and Portia talks him into coming to meet her hoarder mother, who is stuck in a monstrosity of her own making. However, that meet and greet with Hoarder Mama is really a surprise party with all of Vernon’s former students, including Chuck, one young man with whom Portia is now infatuated and who also credits Vernon’s lessons with saving his life. Chuck is part of the unfolding story, as he’s living with his sister Danielle and her young boy, both of whom end up being a huge part of the unveiling story. Vernon flees into the night, and Portia must face the facts that she probably forced the issue with someone who was a hero to her, but who wasn’t ready to face his demons. She gets involved with Chuck and his family, and writes a book that addresses a lot of what happened to her, and dedicates it to Vernon, her retired mentor. Vernon’s real problem was with his estranged mother, the nun…and Portia admits to him that his mother has been in contact with her and that he should read her letters- because she passed without her and Vernon reconciling. This is a novel with a million layers, a million messages, and a million little quirks.
The language? Sentences that Vernon utters: “You Can’t Make Passionate Love To A Book”, along with ones about being sodomized by baguettes and the like…well, those are hard for someone with my wide open mind to ignore. Vernon is an old salt, that’s obvious, but some of the dialect coming out of his piehole may very well alienate the reader. My mind is in the gutter most of the time, but this book gave me multiple pauses. I lost many paths along the way to the happy ending. I questioned why someone so hell bent on suicide lets his former student get to him, to a certain extent it could be viewed as “buying” his attention, to the point that he chooses to not go through with it and contemplate, based on what Portia shows him. There are multiple dissecting storylines, as there usually are with Matthew Quick’s books, but this one was all over the damn place. There really was no spirit of continuity, and I really only liked the charcters of Chuck and his young nephew Tommy. The rest of them are hard to swallow, as far as their actions go. I don’t even know where to begin or end with this book, but if it was intended to be a “spiritual” or “enlightening” novel, well, it really wasn’t that at all. It was more of a free-for-all much of the book, and that emotional roller coaster is the type of thing you do NOT want in a book, because a book is an escape. So…overall, what started has ended well, but it does not mean that I was A-Okay with this book. Quick really needs to work on getting his characters linked up more..and the nun angle? I knew it before it was stated. I had to read 172 pages on to have it confirmed, but it was kind of obvious that it was wrapping its way around toward being somehow connected to Nate Vernon.
Having said that, I did enjoy Quick’s writing and his characters, as I usually do, to the point that I was riveted to the end. And once I did finish it, I thought “None of that surprised me, and the characters were excellently written, although certain liberties of common sense and logic were thrown to the winds of nostalgia”. It ended up being a hell of a ride, although I was let down, because they really played up the heavy metal fan side of the book, but they really didn’t touch on it as much as hinted at. Portia is a great female lead, although she is, like most of us, weak in the sins of the heart, and often doesn’t see the bloody truth right in front of her. Which endears her, for the record. The book just didn’t capture my heart and spirit, as his others have. Something is missing, in a big way. I hope I just missed it, myself. Overall, a good, steady read, but don’t roll into this expecting a life changing novel, because it is just a run of the mill good story.