Scott Spencer is an astonishingly perceptive and powerfully skilled young writer who had two successful novels to his credit before he was thirty. His Last Night at the Brain Thieves’ Ball (1973) and Preservation Hall (1976) won him both the praise of critics and a widening audience; both works demonstrate his profound identification with the problems experienced by persons of genuine emotion who are fronted by an uncaring and false society. In each, he made his people, their language, their thoughts, and their times come vitally alive. Now, in Endless Love, Spencer allows his vision of that problem to mature in a story which is consistently fascinating in its narrative range and often—even in our callous age—shocking in its intensity of emotion.
Endless Love is a novel of compulsion. The epigrammatic title, which comes from Delmore Schwartz’s poem “I Am a Book I Neither Wrote nor Read,” foreshadows the obsessive, trancelike effect this novel has. The novel’s narrator is an original. His passion and his crime are unlearned behaviors; they simply are, and he unblinkingly reports his having done them. Told in the first person, his narration is about obsession and displays a relentless, unnerving momentum. The story, which could have become merely a mawkish tale of adolescent love or an attack on women’s demands for security or another denunciation of contemporary American society, instead succeeds in communicating complex attitudes and asking sophisticated philosophical questions. If a sociologist fifty years from now wanted to know what representative families were like in the 1960’s, this novel would faithfully answer most of his questions.
Spencer’s energy and psychological insights in Endless Love are impressive. Between the lines, through the novel’s events, the author asks, “What is love in our time? What is the family? What do they mean to each other? What ought they to be. . . . What will they be allowed to be . . .?” Sadly but truthfully, he reports the effect our harsh and changing circumstances have had on families. He reveals a deep sympathy for people who care, who can still be touched despite all their defenses, escapes, and alienations. Spencer’s complex and daring theme seems to be that the emotion of love, when it is most pure—that is, when it is most conscious of itself, most exclusive of external restraint—is truly obsessive and inevitably destructive, a threat to society’s other forms such as the family; it is...
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