10 authors choose their favorite love stories of all time
Sunday, February 13, 2005; Page T08
I was 30 the summer I met Marguerite Duras's The Lover. This was in Mexico City, 1985. I was supposed to be finishing a book of poetry. The truth is, I was fleeing the man who had created and then destroyed me. In a few months Mexico City would be destroyed too, by earthquake. In a few years, Emiliano Zapata would rise from the dead in Chiapas. But this was before.
I read Scott Spencer's Endless Love exactly once, 10 years ago, and it stays with me like the most vivid dream I ever had. Even now, just picking up the book and holding it in my hands gives me a racing heart and a queasy feeling, as if I'm the protagonist, David Axelrod, and I'm about to see my teenage love, Jade Butterfield, for the first time since I burned down her house and was put in a mental hospital as a condition of my parole. David's obsession with Jade is overwhelming in the way of a black hole's gravitational field, deforming the very geometry of space in its vicinity, forcing every life around it (even my own life, as a reader) to converge in a dreamlike nexus wherein the worst thing that could happen is also the best thing that could happen. David will be released from the hospital, and he will find his way back to the very well-hidden Jade, and she will love him again the way she used to. The yoked squalor and infinity of adolescent love: No writer ever nailed it better than Spencer did here.
I first read E. Arnot Robertson's Four Frightened People when I was a young girl, and desperate to know about love. Of all the books I read, this gave me the most powerful, exciting and satisfying idea both of sex and of love. It is the story of a woman doctor on a nightmare journey across the Malayan jungle. She is fleeing a ship with bubonic plague, in the company of her handsome cousin Stewart, a dry, ironic linguist named Arnold Ainger and an excessively talkative silly older woman. The danger and strain bring Judy and Ainger together. It's almost the best description I know of reciprocated desire and real intelligent respect of two people for each other. It's all the better for using much less explicit sexual description than would be inevitable now. The imagination is set to work, and works. (The novel was published in 1931 and became a bestseller.) It also has one of the best and most unexpected endings to a drama that I've read -- this takes place in Simpson's in the Strand, that most English and restrained of restaurants.
How long does love last? people ask, meaning the Romantic Love of passion and heartbreak. Answer: three years. Of the classical Great Loves -- Romeo and Juliet, Pelléas and Mélisande, Tristan and Isolde (the love potion this last pair inadvertently shared was meant to wear off after three years) -- the protagonists all die young. One can't imagine them as middle-aged folks putting their kids through school.