Thursday, March 12, 2009

No other book has the same effect

Over at the Blog of a Bookslut, Nina MacLaughlin has a remarkable look back at Scott Spencer’s 1979 novel Endless Love. MacLaughlin captures the experience of reading it: “[I]t’s the type of book that if your roommate—or boyfriend or girlfriend or dog—walks in while you’re reading it, you will feel as though you’ve just been caught with someone’s hand down your pants. It is mesmerizing, graphic, completely engrossing.” MacLaughlin recalls her first encounter with the novel as “one of the most memorable reading experiences of my life.”

Me too. Endless Love is not a particularly good novel, but to read it is to revisit those obsessive infatuations that, like a bout of insanity, utterly routed your life at various times when you were younger. I have found that I cannot go back to the novel—any more than I can reread old aching and embarrassingly prolix come-back-to-me love letters. In that sense, Endless Love is the kind of novel that belongs to a season of youth, rather like You Can’t Go Home Again. If you are past the age of thirty and if you have not read it, you will never be able to. (Same for Wolfe.) But if you are still young, and if you have ever been so obsessed with a girl that she occupies your every waking moment, then Endless Love will prove to be an unforgettable reading experience. Merely to pick up the novel will cause you to remember the sofa upon which you sprawled with it in your hand thirty years ago; you will remember the December chill outside your window; you will remember the slapdash sandwiches you made yourself when you unwillingly broke away from the book to eat; you will remember the girl you were aching for at that very moment. There is something profoundly unliterary about the whole experience, and it is a little bit creepy, but no other book will have the same effect upon you. Ever.