The Romantic


When she is nine-years-old, Louise Kirk’s mother disappears, leaving a note that reads only—and incorrectly—"Louise knows how to work the washing machine." It is not long before a strange couple and their adopted son, Abel, move in across the street. Louise quickly grows close with the exotic Mrs. Richter, but saves her stronger, more lasting affections for Mrs. Richter’s intelligent son. From this childhood friendship evolves a love that will bind Louise and Abel forever, and though Abel moves away and Louise ...

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The Romantic: A Novel

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When she is nine-years-old, Louise Kirk’s mother disappears, leaving a note that reads only—and incorrectly—"Louise knows how to work the washing machine." It is not long before a strange couple and their adopted son, Abel, move in across the street. Louise quickly grows close with the exotic Mrs. Richter, but saves her stronger, more lasting affections for Mrs. Richter’s intelligent son. From this childhood friendship evolves a love that will bind Louise and Abel forever, and though Abel moves away and Louise matures into adulthood, her attachment grows dangerously, fiercely fixed.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"[A] heartbreaking and compassionate novel...Gowdy is a miraculous writer. The pages of The Romantic brim over with so much real life they practically breathe."—Chicago Tribune

"Few writers are able to meld the serious and the comic to such poignant effect...a brilliant evocation."—The Boston Globe

"[A] masterful narration that moves seamlessly back and forth in time...clear-eyed."--Los Angeles Times

"I had to admire Gowdy's elegant structure.... Louise’s descriptions of her feelings for Abel are carefully constructed and, at times, flat-out beautiful.... [Gowdy] has found a perfect vehicle for her peculiar talents."—The New York Times Book Review

The Los Angeles Times
Gowdy's clear-eyed narration gives readers insight into the difficult and extraordinary challenge of surviving maternal abandonment. She presents Louise's needs as bald and raw, and in so doing, the unbearable pain of Louise's dilemma resonates deeply in readers.

Though obsessive love and romantic desire serve as the story's framework, the tale's foundation is built solidly on the rupture suffered by this child and the way her intense yearning shapes her world. At the heart of The Romantic are questions about loss and love that are, in many ways, unanswerable and anything but romantic. — Bernadette Murphy

The Washington Post
Gowdy's writing, at its best, reminds those lucky enough to have fallen ecstatically in love how it can feel like religious conversion. — Jane Vandenburgh
The New York Times
By resisting the bossy tug of plot, Gowdy finds plenty of time to notice those unimportant-to-the-world details that make her writing so lovely. Louise's descriptions of her feelings for Abel are carefully constructed and, at times, flat-out beautiful: ''I imagine holding my hand a few inches above a boulder. It's twilight, summer, growing cool. The boulder gives off the heat of the day. My love for Abel is like the heat between the boulder and the falling night.'' Gowdy has found a perfect vehicle for her peculiar talents. Louise remains faithful to her totally doomed childhood love. She might be crazy, she might be exceptionally sane. Gowdy is too fine a writer to tell us. — Claire Dederer
Publishers Weekly
In her previous novels (The White Bone; Mr. Sandman; etc), Gowdy's imagination blazed new trails, melding bizarre characters into memorable situations. This novel is as beautifully written as its predecessors, but more traditional than the Canadian writer's usual fiction. She examines the mysteries of love and its absence in two damaged children whose adult lives remain shadowed by their early experiences. In the early 1960s in Toronto, when she is 10, narrator Louise Kirk falls in love with a new neighbor boy named Abelard, the adopted son of the Richter family. Louise's mother, a former beauty queen who said things like, "Nobody would believe you're my daughter," abandoned Louise and her passive father a year ago, and Louise prays that the Richters will adopt her, too. Louise has oceans of love to lavish and focuses all her psychic and emotional energy on Abel, who can't bear the weight of it because he is more fragile than she is. She remains obsessed with Abel even after his family moves away, and on the night he briefly reappears, when she is in high school, she conceives his child. But the curious, tender boy she knew has become an alcoholic, taking refuge in Rimbaud and determined to end his life. The narrative moves back and forth in time, spinning out the story of the doomed relationship. Each of the characters, even minor ones, has a unique voice and a vivid, quirky personality. Louise's need to have Abel create the world for her resonates with unfulfilled passion. In reining in her imagination to the limits of a conventional love story, Gowdy has produced her most haunting and sensitive novel to date. Author tour. (May) Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
Library Journal
In her last novel, Gowdy plausibly depicted life in Africa from the perspective of elephants (The White Bone). Here she returns to the human realm with an equally convincing tale of two young Canadians bound together by obsessive attachment. Narrator Louise Kirk is grief-stricken when brilliant rebel Abel Richter, the love of her life, dies on her 26th birthday. Looking back, Louise recalls the first comforts of their friendship. Formed soon after Louise's beauty-queen mother abandoned the nine-year-old girl and her father, this friendship initially encompasses as much affection for Abel's warmhearted family as for the precocious little boy. With adolescence, Louise's attachment becomes deep and exclusive love, undimmed by Abel's less intense regard. After the Richters move away, the lonely Louise slowly develops an independent social life, but a chance reunion ignites mutual passions and assures Louise's total abandonment to Abel, whatever the outcome. A skillfully crafted examination of love's complications, this is recommended for most fiction collections. [Previewed in Prepub Alert, LJ 1/03.]-Starr E. Smith, Fairfax Cty. P.L., VA Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
In this tender romantic tragedy by the ever-insightful Gowdy (The White Bone, 1999, etc.), love’s labors lead to naught when a long but not easily entwined couple let alcohol come between them. Skittering back and forth across more than a decade of Louise Kirk’s involvement with Abel Richter, the narrative opens in 1960, when Abel moves into ten-year-old Louise’s Toronto neighborhood not long after her mother abruptly walked out. Seeking a surrogate, Louise is drawn first to Abel’s larger-than-life mother, but soon she attends more to the quiet, gentle boy who never speaks ill of anyone. Louise is inclined to rage, however, and as time passes Abel gives her plenty of reason. His family moves to Vancouver not long after they realize they love each other, and Abel doesn’t answer any of her letters, but when he comes back for a visit Louise throws herself at him with such abandon that she immediately becomes pregnant. He doesn’t know, though, having returned to Vancouver, and when Louise flies out to tell him she finds him kissing someone else. She aborts with the aid of her herb-wise housekeeper and gets on with her life. A determined underachiever, she follows a stint as a bookstore clerk with a secretarial job for a semiretired broker and dallies with a draft dodger from the States. But she knows that the Richters have returned to Toronto, and when word comes that her mother has died, followed shortly by the urn containing her ashes, it’s to Abel that she turns for comfort. Unfortunately, he’s already well down the alcoholic path to self-destruction, and Louise is just in time to help him enter his final phase. Somewhat reminiscent of Leaving Las Vegas, but Gowdy’s version ofbooze-thwarted love shows considerably more complexity, and her focus is squarely on the survivor. Author tour. Agent: Jackie Kaiser/Westwood Creative Artists
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780312423247
  • Publisher: Picador
  • Publication date: 5/1/2004
  • Edition description: First Edition
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 320
  • Product dimensions: 5.50 (w) x 8.50 (h) x 0.71 (d)

Meet the Author

Barbara Gowdy is the author of five previous books, including The White Bone. Her fiction has been published in more than twenty countries. She lives in Toronto, Ontario.

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Read an Excerpt

From The Romantic:

I fall in love with Mrs. Richter immediately, Abel the following summer. I know how unlikely it sounds, a ten-year-old girl falling in love at all, let alone with a middle-age woman. But to say I become infatuated doesn’t describe the gravity and voluptuousness of my feelings. I trail after her to the grocery store and touch the grapefruits she has fondled. I gaze at her flannel nightgown billowing on the clothesline and am uplifted, as if by music. Under the pretext of welcoming her to the subdivision or asking if she gives piano lessons, asking if she heard about the white-elephant sale at church—any excuse—I write letters advertising my availability and qualifications as a daughter. “Lend a Helping Hand!” I write on the back of the envelopes, as if this were my motto. Down the margins I draw pictures of a girl doing the dishes, scrubbing the floor, dusting.
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