What are the themes of "Sarah Cole: A Type of Love Story" by Russell Banks?

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carol-davis | College Teacher | (Level 1) Educator Emeritus

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 In “Sarah Cole: A Type of Love Story” by Russell Banks, the reader is prepared for anything from the story since part of the title denotes that this is not the normal love story.  The story begins in a bar in Concord, New Hampshire. The narration switches back and forth from first to third person.  The narrator explains that the story took place about ten years earlier.  

Russell Banks wrote the story as if Ron is writing the story. The story combines a “story”  and “real” world. The narrator states that the reason for writing the story so that Ron could come to terms with what they have done.

The tone of the story is confusing which probably is the intention of the writer. The story is told with a straightforward voice trying to help the characters understand this “type of love story.” It is at the same time a story of hope and then depression.   


Two entirely different people encounter each other in a bar.  Ron was not there to meet a woman. He is described as a very handsome man, even more beautiful than his ex-wife.  He appears to be a fastidious man who likes his own company.

On this night, Sarah Cole introduces herself. She comes over to meet him because of a bet wagered with her friend.  She never expected to receive any kind of acknowledgement from this beautiful man. The writer describes Sarah as a woman homelier than any that Ron had ever seen: 

‘…her mottled, pocked complexion, bulbous nose, twisted and gapped teeth, and heavy but receding chin.  Along her neck and throat were acne burns against gray skin, and returns to her eyes.'

The odd element is that Ron is drawn to Sarah.  The couple meets three more times and begins to develop a friendship which surprises both of them.  They are different in their personalities and way of talking.

Finally, the two consummate their sexual relationship. As usual, everything changes  when sex enters  the equation. They tell each other everything about their lives. Immediately, the problem surfaces.  Sarah wants the narrator to go with her to meet her friends, family, and children. He finally agrees to several meetings for her to show him off.

Ron decides that he has had enough of the two of them and these meetings.  He begins to let things get under his skin.  He finally says some ugly things to her to get her to leave. 

Later, he meets one of Sarah’s friends.  Several rumors have been out about her.  One of the rumors insists that she is dead.  Only then, does he realize that he really loved and liked her.


As in most  relationships, communication was poor.  If the talking could include some of the real feelings of both genders, much of the hurt could be stymied.  Thinking a thought and putting it into words often seems impossible for either the man or the woman.  Consequently, feelings are hurt and emotions are never understood. 

Honesty in a relationship is important.  Although Ron does not really understand what he wants from this connection with Sarah, there is obviously some level of shame on his part.  Sarah feels this.  Not until their break-up occurs do either face this shame that both felt for different reasons. He was embarrassed by her appearance and actions, and she was saddened by his feelings about her.

In this interesting love story, the reader learns the relationship of these two people demonstrates why people remain alone. They would never have been able to survive more than the brief sexual relationship.  


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