Sometimes in the midst of winter, after the long fall list of heavy-hitting literary books, it's nice to relax with a lighter book. It's even nicer when the "lighter" book surprises you with an unlooked-for depth to keep the story lingering in your mind just a little longer. I first read Pearson several years back when she published her debut novel, I Don't Know How She Does It, the story of a woman who tries, with intermittent success, to balance her high-profile, high-finance job with being a good mother and a good wife and a good person. Since I was not a mother or in a high-profile position at the time, nor did I feel I was ever likely to be, it was an unusual choice for me, but Pearson is a smart writer with keen insight, giving a fresh take on a well-tread trope.
So I was curious when Ann Kingman, my sales rep for Knopf, mailed me an ARC of I Think I Love You, asserting that I would love it. Turns out she was right. Whether in film or novel form, romantic comedies are a dime a dozen and not my usual fodder. I think it's much harder to write smart-funny than it is to write smart-drama (there's only one When Harry Met Sally for every hundred Maid in Manhattans), and I don't like wasting my time with dumb, so I'm fortunate that I've got sales reps who know my taste and don't try to pass off second rate stuff to me.
In this novel, Petra is your typical 1970s schoolgirl whose love for David Cassidy overshadows everything else in her life, and Bill is the poor sod paid to write all of the bogus copy for The Essential David Cassidy Magazine. Their paths cross when two pivotal events, decades apart, draw them together. What starts out on the surface to be simply another chronicle of mean girls and teen idol obsession in a 1970s village in South Wales turns out to be a surprisingly poignant and insightful novel about the agony of adolescence, the cult of celebrity, and the ways we become irrevocably changed by our youthful passions.
I realize now, as I'm going back to find the pages I dog-eared, that the passages I noted tend toward the un-funny, but they are pretty representative of the insights that Petra has about love and relationships.
"It's so hard for a child to understand their parents' unhappiness.
Mine, if I'd only known it, were infected with the virus of incompati-
bility. Nobody died from it, but nobody lived either." (85)
[Upon contemplating a telephone after attending her mother's funeral]
"It's not always easy to recognize the significant moments of your
life as you're living them, but Petra realizes this is one of them. To
stand in that hall and to realize that neither of her parents will ever
answer the phone again...Death itself is too big to take in, she already
see that; the loss comes at you instead in an infinite number of small
instalments (sic) that can never be paid off." (195)
[On visiting her baby, born dangerously prematurely, in her incubator in hospital]
"As Petra found out, you learn a lot about yourself when you're so close
to that much vulnerability...that the unendurable is endurable, if you just
take it a minute at a time, and when the alternative is no more minutes
ever with your precious child."
Interestingly, the cover on the finished book looks identical to the advance reading copy I read, with one major change: the publisher apparently decided to stop pretending they cared about a male audience for this book and changed the background from a bright yellow to a bright pink. My yellow cover looks curiously like the paperback cover for Nick Hornby's Juliet, Naked (cf the image above [but imagine a canary-yellow instead of the Pepto-pink that is shown] with the image at left to see what I mean). Incidentally, I would think that fans of Nick Hornby would like this book, partly because of the music connection and partly because he also writes smart-funny pretty well. Now, though, the publisher has pretty much shot itself in the foot in terms of marketing to a male audience. But fair enough. Not a ton of men were going to read it anyway--mostly men like my husband, who enjoy reading books that one might call "relationship-y," like Nick Hornby, and mostly prefer women's writing over men's writing. The people who will like it are those who enjoy the works of Hornby, Jill Mansell, Helen Fielding, and other authors who write coming-of-age, women's relationships, and smart-funny well.