The Love of My Youth

The Love of My Youth

2.7 27
by Mary Gordon
     
 

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From the acclaimed author of Pearl and Final Payments comes a beautifully choreographed novel about first lovers meeting again after more than thirty years and reimmersing themselves in their shared past.
 
Miranda and Adam, high-school sweethearts now in their late fifties, arrive by chance at the same time in Rome, a city where they once

Overview

From the acclaimed author of Pearl and Final Payments comes a beautifully choreographed novel about first lovers meeting again after more than thirty years and reimmersing themselves in their shared past.
 
Miranda and Adam, high-school sweethearts now in their late fifties, arrive by chance at the same time in Rome, a city where they once spent a summer deeply in love, living together blissfully. At an awkward reunion, the two—who parted in an atmosphere of passionate betrayal in the 1960s and haven’t seen each other since—are surprised to discover that they may have something to talk about. Both have their own guilt, their sense of who betrayed whom, and their long-held interpretation of the events that caused them not to marry and to split apart into the lives they’ve led since—both are married to others, with grown children. For the few weeks they are in Rome, Adam suggests that they meet for daily walks and get to know each other again. Gradually, as they take in the pleasures of the city and the drama of its streets, they discover not only what matters to them now but also more about what happened to them long ago.
 
Miranda and Adam are masterfully portrayed characters, intent upon understanding who they are in relation to who they were. A story about what first love means and how it is shattered, and the lessons old lovers may still have to share with each other many years later, The Love of My Youth is also a poignant look back at the hopes and dreams of a generation and what became of them.




From the Hardcover edition.

Editorial Reviews

Liesl Schillinger
Emotionally engaging and smoothly flowing, The Love of My Youth showcases Gordon's power to write with controlled urgency, without dissembling or exaggeration, to reveal truths that are hard to face in the unsparing light of day, but without which we could not see ourselves as we are.
—The New York Times
Publishers Weekly
Thoughtful and moving, Gordon's latest captures the ardor and vulnerability of young love and the cautious circumspection of middle age. Miranda and Adam began a love affair in high school that endured through college only to end in a painful betrayal. When a mutual friend brings them together in present-day Rome, they haven't seen each other in more than three decades. Adam's ambitions to be a concert pianist never came to pass, and Miranda, once convinced that political activism could change the world, is now an epidemiologist. Both have married and raised children, but Rome still holds passionate memories for them. Though wary, they meet for daily walks, and Gordon's vividly detailed descriptions make Rome a palpable presence. Miranda and Adam tentatively reveal to each other the events of their lives, touching on aspirations, disillusionments, ideals, and desires, and these conversations set the pace of Gordon's novel. Only when Miranda is about to leave Rome are they able to fully express their emotions and achieve catharsis. Gordon's (Pearl) restraint is admirable, gradually exposing the differences in character that spelled the inevitable demise of this relationship. An accumulation of detail breathes life into her characters, and the writer's affection for this beloved, eternal city is endearing. (Apr.)
From the Publisher
“Evocative. . . . A subtle and precise exploration of the human heart.”
The Boston Globe
 
“Emotionally engaging and smoothly flowing, The Love of My Youth showcases Gordon’s power to write with controlled urgency, without dissembling or exaggeration, to reveal truths that are hard to face in the unsparing light of day, but without which we could not see ourselves as we are.”
The New York Times Book Review
 
“Entrancing. . . . Gordon deftly awakens the strain of regret and desire that we too feel as we watch old loves and old selves recede.”
Los Angeles Times
 
“Vivid. . . . Not so much a romance as a reckoning. . . . Gordon crafts a story layered with wise insights, and gives it a picture-postcard setting that lovers of Italy will delight in.”
The Seattle Times
 
“Evocative. . . . A travelogue through time, as well as through some of Rome’s most beautiful spaces, Gordon's novel dangles out the fantasy of the faultlessly executed second chance. . . . An enchanting read.”
—Maureen Corrigan, NPR’s “Fresh Air”
 
“Gordon writes of the affection and wistfulness one has looking at the self growing smaller in the rearview mirror. And as a soulful and spiritual writer, she is in many ways just the person to write such a book. . . . The Love of My Youth provides us a nice leisurely space to wander—and wonder.”
Cleveland Plain Dealer
 
“Gordon’s art in capturing the social and political texture of the [1960s] brings the story alive. . . . Armchair travelers will find much to enjoy.”
San Francisco Chronicle
 
“Intricately realized. . . . Gordon’s evocation of thoughtful college students in the late ’60s (her own college era) is exceptionally nuanced and convincing.”
The Atlantic
 
“Gordon is sensitive to the subtlest differences of class and religion, and the most satisfying aspects of The Love of My Youth are Gordon’s interpretations of how the differences in Adam and Miranda’s backgrounds impact their relationship. The novel is also filled with small resonating details, from the architectural beauties of urban Rome to Adam and Miranda’s anxious glimpses of their aging bodies in front of hotel mirrors. The Love of My Youth is as much about how we feel about our past and the choices we made and make, as it is about the love story between two young people.”
BookPage
 
“Even if first love isn’t as rosy for most people as it was for Miranda and Adam, Gordon was definitely on to something when she shaped The Love of My Youth around that concept. For surely there is no one more likely than the love of your youth to remind you of everything you hoped to become.”
—The Associated Press
 
“Virtuoso and versatile Gordon offers brilliantly fresh takes on family conflicts, women’s lives, war, and global suffering while ingeniously meshing classic love stories with modern mores, and ecstasy with wisdom, to create an enthralling drama of innocent passion, crushing tragedy, and the careful construction of stable, nurturing lives.”
Booklist (starred review)
 
“Thoughtful and moving, Gordon’s latest captures the ardor and vulnerability of young love and the cautious circumspection of middle age.”
Publishers Weekly

Library Journal
The most honest scene in Gordon's new novel (after Pearl) has a 60-year-old Miranda in front of the full-length mirror in her Rome apartment dressing for a reunion dinner with old friends. She will be seeing Adam, who, decades ago, she believed to be the great love of her life. As she rejects one outfit after another she also tries on and casts off variations on how she will behave at this awkward gathering. Annoyance, excitement, and pride jockey for position as Miranda recalls Adam's long-ago betrayal. Ironically, Adam is performing the same ritual in front of his own armoire. He knows Italy and offers to meet Miranda, there on business, for daily walks that prove to be as aimless as their conversation, in which they needle each other while skirting around their big questions. It's only through flashbacks and interior monolog that readers meet the passionate, activist firebrand that was Miranda and the intense, insecure pianist that was Adam. But who are they now? VERDICT Gordon's stellar literary reputation ensures that her fans will line up for this latest entry. Their enjoyment, however, may hinge on whether they believe that Adam and Miranda were in love in their youth or just in love with their youth. [See Prepub Alert, LJ 11/15/10.]—Sally Bissell, Lee Cty. Lib. Syst., Ft. Myers, FL

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780307379771
Publisher:
Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
Publication date:
04/05/2011
Sold by:
Random House
Format:
NOOK Book
Pages:
288
Sales rank:
656,246
File size:
2 MB

Read an Excerpt

October 7, 2007
 
“I hope it won’t be strange or awkward. I mean, what seemed strange to me, or would seem strange, is not to do it. Because in a way it is strange, isn’t it, really, the two of you in Rome at the same time, the both of you phoning me the same day?”
 
Irritation bubbles up in Miranda. Had Valerie always been so garrulous? So vague? Had she, Miranda, always found her so annoying—the qualifications, the emendations, laid down, thrown out like straw on a road to muffle the noise of passing carriages when there’d been a death in the house? Where did that come from? Some novel of the nineteenth century. The early twentieth. And now it is the twenty-first, the first decade nearly done for. There’s no point in thinking this way, focusing on Valerie’s habits of speech and diction. As if that were the point. The point is simply: she must decide whether or not to go.
 
It has been nearly forty years since she has seen him. Or to be exact—and it is one of the things she values in herself, her ability to be exact—thirty-six years and four months. She saw him last on June 23, 1971. The day had changed her.
 
Adam tries to remember if he had ever been genuinely fond of Valerie. What he can recall is that, of Miranda’s many friends, Valerie was the one who seemed most interested in him. The one who asked him questions and then listened to his answers, who assumed he had a life whose details might be worthy of her attention. 1966, ’67, ’68, ’69, ’70, ’71. A time when he spent his days trying to determine the perfect fingering, the ideal tempo, for a Beethoven sonata, a Bach partita. A way of spending time that Miranda’s friends considered almost criminally beside the point. The point was stopping the war. Stopping racism. Stop­ping poverty. Diminishing the injustice of the world.
 
In those days, he couldn’t speak to anyone about his pain over the fact that Miranda seemed entirely taken up by the problems of the world. The things that absorbed him no longer captured her attention. Not that he ever wanted to capture her attention; her attention was not a bird he was trying to snare, a fish he was netting. For that was what he loved most about Miranda: her mind’s speed, but not only her mind, her quickness in everything. Darting, swooping, leaping, thrilling to him, who moved so slowly, whose every gesture was considered. Those who criticized his playing of the piano accused him of being incapable of lightness. She was a bright thing, a shim­mering thing, a kingfisher, a dragonfly. Thirty-six years later she would be no longer young. Had she kept her quickness? Her lightness? Which would he have preferred, that she had kept or lost them?
 
Is that why he’s agreed to it, to seeing her after all these years, at this dinner Valerie has arranged? Out of simple curiosity? Along with lacking lightness, he has been charged with lacking curiosity. But perhaps both had always been untrue. That curiosity has in this instance triumphed over shame: this must be a sign of strength. For if his soul is, as he’d learned in Sunday school, a clear vessel that could be blackened by his sins, what he did to Miranda was among the blackest. When he told himself he couldn’t have helped it, that he had done the best, the only thing he could have done under the circum­stances, the words rang false. He would be tempted to say that to her now, but he would never say it. He is hoping there will be no need. That they will see each other once again, no longer young but healthy, prosperous, intact. That he will see the proof: that he did not destroy her.
 
##
She stands before the spotted mirror. A dime-sized pool of expensive moisturizer—rose scented, ordered especially from a Romanian cosmetician in New York—spreads in the heat of her palm. Miranda wonders what Adam looks like. She tries on a long black skirt, throws it impatiently on the bed, then Nile green silk pants with wide legs. She tries on the black skirt again. Then a violet knit top, which she rejects because it emphasizes her breasts. Once a vexation to her on account of their smallness, her breasts had done all right with age. She’s glad he won’t be seeing her naked. Or in a bathing suit. Well, she is nearly sixty now, and her body shows the marks of bear­ing two strong healthy sons. Her legs, which, he had said, caused him a desire that was painful in its intensity when he saw them in her first miniskirt—September 1965—but which she’d always thought too thick, too straight, these had gone flabby. She’s tried—swimming, running, yoga—but nothing really helps. Most of the time she doesn’t think of it, she doesn’t really care. It’s one of the benefits of age: such things have lost their power to scald.
 
She’s blonde now; he would not be accustomed to thinking of her as a blonde, and her hair is short, boyish. In the time they knew each other her hair had hung down her back at one point almost to her waist. Her hair was brown then, a light brown; he’d called it honey colored. She’d parted it in the mid­dle or braided it into a single plait. Then she remembers: he did see her, briefly, with boyish hair. She doesn’t like to think about that time.
 
She looks at the lines around her eyes, her mouth. Her face has not ceased to please her, but it could never be the face that he had loved.
 
##
He has read about her. An article he found in a doctor’s office. “Does Your Office Make You Sick?” Sick buildings. She is an epidemiologist specializing in environmental threats. Her sub­specialty: molds.
 
He thought that such work seemed ill suited to her. Quiet, painstaking work. Requiring patience, which she’d always lacked. But then he remembered: it was only with people that she was impatient. With the physical world, she held her quickness in check; she could spend hours looking, sorting.
 
He wonders how she does her work. Does she go around old buildings, masked, accompanied by young acolytes collect­ing things in closed containers, tiny bits of plaster prized from the walls with tweezers? He can imagine her sitting at a micro­scope, one eye glued to a lens, silent, looking. Or perhaps no one uses microscopes anymore. He knows nothing. Valerie told him—he was grateful that he didn’t have to ask—that she is married. A doctor, an Israeli; he is, Valerie said, something important in the California Department of Public Health. He learned this only days ago. Before that, if anyone asked, he wouldn’t have been able to answer the question, What has become of her?
 
She would know nothing of what has become of him. She would never have read anything about him; he has done noth­ing that would have placed his name before the public. A music teacher in a private school. Director of the chorus. One day, he might be known as the father of his daughter, if she continues her early promise on the violin. But up to now, it would be accurate to say he’s done nothing worthy of note.
 
##
Miranda has heard something, vaguely, some tragedy about Adam’s wife. A suicide. She was not, to her shame, sorry. She would not ask details of Valerie. Even to say the woman’s name, even after all these years, would be an offense against her pride, and this, too, had seemed to her excessive. But it was an impulse she could not give up.
 
Bitterness.
 
Pride.
 
Grievance.
 
Of course it would be better to be free of them. Of course.
 
##
Ridiculous to feel it still all these years later. A sense of betrayal. A sense of abandonment. Two-thirds of her life. Sixty-six and two-thirds percent. She had had a thorough training in statis­tics; numbers are her friend, they have often made her point, they’ve told the truth, they’ve uncovered poisonous equivoca­tions. How many years has it been since she’d even thought of Adam? And—what was her name. HER. She looks in the mirror and castigates herself for her own falseness, a false­ness all the more ridiculous because it is for no one’s benefit but her own. She would never forget the name. That name. Beverly. Bev.
 
##
She tries the black skirt on again. Perhaps the white shirt would make her face too pale. Above all she must appear to have, over the years, flourished. A rose-pink camisole, then, and a jacket: small pink and white flowers against a background of black silk. Yes, that’s right. As a young woman she would never have worn pink, disliking what the shade suggested: weakness, girl­ishness. But she has grown to like pink. No one, she is certain now, would think of her as weak. Or take her for a girl.
 
##
Adam stands before the mirror that attaches to the front of his armadio, a looming and reproachful piece, reminding him of its glorious pedigree, hinting reproachfully of his current status (American and not wellborn), an interloper, taking the place of his betters because of Yankee dollars and the slow steady ero­sion of the values of the lovely past. The people who own the apartment can only afford to keep it because they rent it out most of the year. They live somewhere cheaper. Adam had asked Valerie not to tell him the details.
 
He moves closer to the mirror so that he can focus, not on his body, but on his thinning hair. No one could say that he was going bald—he is grateful for that—but his hair has lost its luxuriance and, once jet black, is gray now, and he keeps it cropped short to conceal the diminishment (yes, he’s admitted to himself it is a vanity, this effort at concealment). When he saw her last, his hair came down to his shoulders. It curled—his aunts would say, “Those curls are wasted on a boy. What I wouldn’t give to have them.” At least he isn’t so ridiculous as to wear a ponytail at his age, as some of his colleagues do, to the mockery of the more hostile, or more fashion-conscious, stu­dents. He can only imagine the contempt Miranda would have for men who wear ponytails. Even after all these years he is cer­tain of it. And, feeling himself enlarged by the comparison that he has just invented, he relaxes about his hair.
 
Turning from the mirror, he glances at his hands. Nails round, cut short. Pianist’s hands. He has not achieved fame, success, even, but he has not given over his calling. She had loved his hands. She would kiss his fingers and turn his hands over one at a time, and kiss the palms. Her lips, moist, their touch preceded by a warm moist breath (he had found it quite unbearably arousing). “My darling love, my genius boy. What joy you bring with these wonderful hands. You make beautiful music. You make beautiful love. I hope to see your hands the last thing before I close my eyes in death.”
 
She was capable of speaking ridiculously like that. She was fifteen, sixteen, seventeen years old. She felt free always to over­state, to shed tears. To use terms that were too large: “genius,” “love,” “death.” He had a perfectly ordinary pair of hands. He was, for a serious pianist, only moderately gifted. As for his skill at lovemaking: there was no skill, no art . . . no notion that there was a better way. Or a worse. They were only two young people, ordinary in their youth, their ardor.
 
It was easier when he thought like that. But it was not the truth, and he would not dishonor the past, the two of them as young, by such a dismissal. In their innocence, in their belief in life and in each other, in the clarity of their desire that had no residue of punishment or will to humiliate or dominate or shame, they had been a thing of beauty. Valuable. Not ever, would he betray that. His youth. Their youth. She was the love of his youth. He is no longer young. And she, too, has lost youth. But he will not betray it.
 
He remembers dancing with Miranda for the first time. It was near Thanksgiving; he had not yet asked her out. Someone had a party in a basement, and although the air outside was taking on a chill, the air in the dark basement was thick with the sense of intense exertion and young lust, hanging like a cur­tain along with the residual smell of the family beer. He felt about to burst, burst into flame, with longing, longing quick as a flame spreading over a dry ground. A flame he could never imagine extinguishing, never going out. He remembered her writing down a word first because she liked it, second because she wanted to do well on her SATs. “Fulvous,” the word was.
 
No one at the party dreamed of doing more than kissing. Or perhaps the more adventurous might try touching a girl’s breasts. In six months, when many of them turned sixteen and the times they were a-changing, heated discussions among the girls would be the norm: how far could you let him go, after how long.
 
The first night when he danced with Miranda, holding her, he put his mouth against her hair and inhaled the exacting innocence of her shampoo. Clean, maddening. He did feel driven mad with desire, with shame, certain she could not be feeling anything like what he was feeling. When they were dancing, she lifted her chin so that a kiss would happen. It did not. He was too afraid.
 
Forty years later, he feels the clutch of gratitude. Never in Miranda was there the slightest hint, not the smallest sugges­tion, that he, male, was monstrous and she, female, shocked, pure. They shared ardor. It was she who suggested they become lovers. They were sixteen years old. Daring then. Now? So commonplace as to be unworthy of mention. They were sitting by the river and she said, “Adam, you need to know something. I want everything that you want, maybe more, maybe worse.” Was it possible that her skin was always warm, even in winter, as if she carried with her always some hint of early June? So he could leave behind the young man’s shame, like a coat he had grown out of. But not the young man’s desperation. Almost impossible to recall that desperation now. The urgency of a boy’s arousal. Now, at nearly sixty, he sometimes has to coax himself to be aroused by a lovely girl. And married sex? It satis­fies, like a good meal, a fine painting. But desperation? Mad­ness? Not now, never. He had asked his doctor for Viagra.
 
Miranda need never know that.

From the Hardcover edition.

What People are saying about this

From the Publisher
“Gordon’s art in capturing the social and political texture of the times brings the story alive.”
San Francisco Chronicle
 
“Lovely and thoughtful.”
The Washington Post
 
“Even if first love isn’t as rosy for most people as it was for Miranda and Adam, Gordon was definitely on to something when she shaped The Love of My Youth around that concept. For surely there is no one more likely than the love of your youth to remind you of everything you hoped to become.”
The Miami Herald
 
“Gordon casts her drama with strong characters.”
The New York Times

"Emotionally engaging and smoothly flowing, The Love of My Youth showcases Gordon’s power to write with controlled urgency, without dissembling or exaggeration, to reveal truths that are hard to face in the unsparing light of day, but without which we could not see ourselves as we are."
—Liesl Schillinger, The New York Times Book Review

"Entrancing . . . Gordon deftly awakens the strain of regret and desire that we too feel as we watch old loves and old selves recede."
—Julia M. Klein, Los Angeles Times

"Gordon . . . writes of the affection and wistfulness one has looking at the self growing smaller in the rearview mirror. And as a soulful and spiritual writer, the author of Final Payments and Circling my Mother, she is in many ways just the person to write such a book. . . [The Love of My Youth] provides us a nice leisurely space to wander—and wonder."
—Karen Sandstrom, Cleveland Plain Dealer

"[Gordon] is sensitive to the subtlest differences of class and religion, and the most satisfying aspects of The Love of My Youth are Gordon’s interpretations of how the differences in Adam and Miranda’s backgrounds impact their relationship. The novel is also filled with small resonating details, from the architectural beauties of urban Rome to Adam and Miranda’s anxious glimpses of their aging bodies in front of hotel mirrors. The Love of My Youth is as much about how we feel about our past and the choices we made and make, as it is about the love story between two young people."
—Lauren Bufferd, BookPage

"Virtuoso and versatile Gordon offers brilliantly fresh takes on family conflicts, women’s lives, war, and global suffering while ingeniously meshing classic love stories with modern mores, and ecstasy with wisdom, to create an enthralling drama of innocent passion, crushing tragedy, and the careful construction of stable, nurturing lives."
Booklist

"Thoughtful and moving, Gordon’s latest captures the ardor and vulnerability of young love and the cautious circumspection of middle age."
Publishers Weekly

"Since this is Gordon, you can rightly expect many thoughtful, penetrating insights on how we manage ourselves as we get older, all couched in shining and gently acidic prose."
Library Journal 

Meet the Author

Mary Gordon is the author of six previous novels, two memoirs, a short-story collection, and Reading Jesus, a work of nonfiction. She has received many honors, among them a Lila Wallace–Reader’s Digest Writers’ Award, a Guggenheim Fellowship, an O. Henry Award, an Academy Award for Literature from the American Academy of Arts and Letters, and the Story Prize. She is the State Writer of New York. Gordon teaches at Barnard College and lives in New York City.




From the Hardcover edition.

Brief Biography

Hometown:
New York, New York
Date of Birth:
December 8, 1949
Place of Birth:
New York, New York
Education:
A.B., Barnard College, 1971; M.A., Syracuse University, 1973

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The Love of My Youth 2.7 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 27 reviews.
JacksonvilleReader More than 1 year ago
I so looked forward to this book. I've never read anything by Mary Gordon, but the overview on BN sounded very interesting. Took the book with me to read during a flight to/from a business trip and regretted my choice. The concept was good, but I found the characters boring and egotistical...probably won't even finish the book.
NookGirlMP More than 1 year ago
The characters are pretentious, full of themselves, egotistical -- call it what you will. The writing leans in that direction as well. I have struggled through about half the book and it's likely I won't bother to finish it.
Nascardinal More than 1 year ago
I don't think I was supposed to hate the main characters by the end of the book, but I did. Miserable louts!
Suzip More than 1 year ago
the characters are pretentious and boring. Who actually talks like Miranda and Adam, especially old lovers who are reminiscing? I will probably finish just to see what the big deal between them was but I would not recommend this book.
catwak More than 1 year ago
This charming story, which has had many variations in literature, is as much about choices and change as it is about revisiting youth's lost love. Adam, who epitomized the dream boyfriend of many idealistic young women of his generation, reconnects with Miranda after a nearly 40-year separation that had been precipitated by a life-changing event for both of them. For me, one of the pleasures of reading this book was the writer's ability to capture the characters' choices and the self-realization they awakened, not as "better" or "worse" by some external moral standard, but simply as different for each of them, and as extensions of the individuals they already were when first they met.
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SylviaB More than 1 year ago
Had high hopes for this book, but it left me flat. A totally forgettable book.
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Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I read this book while in Italy and wondering "what if". I appreciated the sober look at the past and present which could shape the future. Highly recommend it.
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Took a bit to get I to it, but story interesting and worth reading.
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A little labored and self indulgent.
Donna Catrambone More than 1 year ago
She puts my thoughts on paper i feel so satisfied religion art politcs love family-----i adore all her work
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