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Publishers Weekly® Reviews
- Reviewed in: Publishers Weekly, page .
- Review Date: 2011-02-14
- Reviewer: Staff
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.)
The choices we make
Those of us who are of a certain age sometimes find ourselves wondering, “Am I still the person I once was?” Nothing can bring this question to mind more quickly than seeing a friend from the past. This question—and the issues that result—are examined beautifully in Mary Gordon’s seventh novel, The Love of My Youth, in which childhood sweethearts meet again after more than 30 years and immerse themselves in discussing a shared past.
Miranda and Adam are both in Rome, brought there by family and business obligations. Both are in their late 50s, happily married, with grown children. Once a gifted pianist, Adam attended conservatory and now teaches music at a small college. Miranda, whose politics and social conscience were profoundly affected by the Vietnam War and the women’s movement, pursued a career in epidemiology. Rome holds passionate memories for both of them, since they lived there together briefly after college. Their reunion, at the apartment of a mutual friend, is awkward, but they are intrigued enough to meet again and plan a series of daily walks. As they take in the city’s glorious museums, parks and restaurants, they find they still have much to share. Aspirations, dreams and disappointments are cautiously revealed.
Miranda and Adam’s early romance, love affair and painful breakup are examined in three flashbacks that detail the intimacies of their relationship and masterfully capture the tumultuous social changes of the 1960s and ’70s. Each of them guards a long-held interpretation of what led to their breakup, as well as feelings of guilt and remorse. Meeting again forces them to re-examine the past and take steps on the path to accepting themselves as they once were.
Gordon’s novels often feature personal dramas set against a backdrop of political or religious change. She 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.