Love May Fail
“I was beaten with a baseball bat in front of my students. My dog committed suicide. And now I’m being haunted by the misinformed and untested optimism of my youth in the form of a delusional former student who can’t even take care of her own problems, let alone mine.”
This is Matthew Quick’s newest novel, Love May Fail, in a troublesome nutshell.
Jilted jet-setter Portia Kane catches her wealthy pornographer husband in bed with a teenager. Rather than kill them both, her first plan, she decides to take off for her childhood home in South Jersey, seeking the one positive male role model in her life. Unfortunately, her high school English teacher is a broken shell of a man. Undaunted, Portia decides to save him, with or without his active participation.
The quote above is troublesome because it encapsulates the main problem in this novel of quirks-with-names: there is nothing vaguely realistic about any of it.
Portia has a pornographer husband who looks just like Tom Selleck. Portia is continually referred to and refers to herself as a feminist, yet there is absolutely no reason presented why anyone would consider her such (in fact, childlike is applied to her with great regularity).
Portia has a hoarder, hugely overweight mother who became pregnant with Portia as a product of rape and can’t relate to anyone, yet nobody is apparently concerned about this (or was concerned for Portia as a child).
One of Portia’s first actions upon becoming reacquainted with a woman whom she barely remembers from high school is to play head-banging air guitar while the new/old friend’s five-year-old son lip-syncs to an old Quiet Riot song. Keep in mind, the woman in question is at least 40 and has been a wealthy socialite for the last decade and a half.
This is just the beginning of a possible laundry list of disappointments encompassed in Love May Fail. The narrative is a morass of unbelievable coincidences, disjointed scenes, and characters worthy of an Adam Sandler movie. There’s the child who acts and speaks like no child ever has. Heroin junkies, some with a heart of gold and some not. Flavor-of-last-month mental disorder? Got it, in the hoarder mother. You’ve got your violence, redemption, wildly unlikely literary success, and even death.
What you don’t have is a single character who bears any relationship to a real person (well, maybe the feisty nun . . . wait. That’s a stock character, too). Many scenes seem to have been written for the visual impact of a movie without considering if a real person would do or say any of the things that happen or are said.
This is disappointing, because there are signs that Quick has talent. He does a nice job of creating distinct voices for each of his narrators, his scene changes are smooth, and there are a few bits of dialogue that are truly funny and insightful. Most powerful is his characterization of Mr. Vernon, the teacher Portia sets out to save. Though many of the situations he gets into with Portia are absurd, there is a love of the art of teaching that shines through Quick’s narrative and makes that character poignant.
Those positive things are subsumed, unfortunately, by an overwhelming eye toward film production and “big” scenes that don’t ring true in a novel. The last few chapters are especially painful; in going for the Hollywood ending, Quick eviscerates the positive aspects of his novel.
Owen Meany, in John Irving’s brilliant novel A Prayer for Owen Meany, had a certain phrase he used to dismiss anything pretentious or unbelievable: in his own inimitable style, those things were “Made for Television.” Maybe “Made For Hollywood” is more apropos in the case of Love May Fail, but he end meaning is the same: “Your BS meter is about to redline.”
Coming soon to a theater near you.