First novels are often about young love for at least two reasons. First, they are usually the products of young authors who have little else to write about. Erich Segal’s highly successful Love Story (1970) is a good example. A more recent example would be Jay McInerney’s Bright Lights, Big City (1986). Françoise Sagan’s Bonjour Tristesse (1954; English translation, 1955) is a good example of a first novel from France. The prototype is probably William Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet (c. 1594-1595). There is a strong tendency for such novels to end in tragedy, probably because the tragic ending seems to lend the story added significance, and also because it is a good idea to end a love story before the couple becomes mired in the tedium and disillusionment of marriage.
The other reason that first novels are so often stories about young love is simply that the market so dictates. Hardcover novels are expensive, and it is not easy to sell novels by young, unknown authors. Young readers typically will wait for the paperback editions to come out or else appropriate the book from their parents’ bookcase or try to borrow the book from the public library. It is, as Bernard De Voto pointed out in The World of Fiction (1950), middle-aged and older readers, mainly women, who will buy such books. “[De Voto’s hypothetical female fiction addict’s] purchase and the fact that she will repeat it within a month are the foundation that supports the publishing business and the trade of novel-writing.” These mature women are not interested in the philosophical observations, political opinions, or book learning of young writers who have never had children, never been married, never experienced the death of a loved one, perhaps never even held down a full-time job. The only really marketable experience young authors have to offer—unless they have been to war— resides in their love lives. Here is the one area in which the young author holds an advantage over the older reader, who can vicariously relive the passions, the abandon, and the illusions that only go with young love. Aspiring young novelists should take note.
There has been so much “genre-crossing” in recent years that it comes as no surprise to see a love story that reads like a detective novel. Eve’s Apple might be compared to a Raymond Chandler private-eye mystery because the “shamus” learns a lot of things, but not what he set out to discover. Joseph Zimmerman is obsessed with discovering the secret of his live-in lover Ruth Simon. His is the motivation that drives the plot from beginning to end. He realizes he is jeopardizing their relationship by trying to get too close, by trying to get inside her mind and discover what makes her “tick.” Ruth’s diary reveals so little about her thoughts and feelings that it should become obvious to Joseph that she does not understand her problem any better than he does. Nevertheless, he cannot stop himself from spying on her and studying all the available literature on her condition.
Ruth has a psychiatrist with whom she shares some, but not all, of her secrets five mornings a week. Her wealthy father, who charges $450 an hour for legal advice, provides for her generously because he feels guilty about neglecting her when she was a child. Ruth hardly needs Joseph’s amateur intrusions into her neurotic labyrinth. Unless the reader is passionately interested in the subject of female eating disorders, he or she is likely to feel that there is a little too much of the same conflict without any progress toward a resolution.
As in many first novels about young love, the lovers’ parents come in for much analysis and blame. Parents are the Montagues and Capulets of modern love stories. Ruth’s mother Carol is by far the most interesting, as well as the most guilty, of the parental figures. She is the quintessential modern middle- aged woman who realizes too late that she is trapped in a loveless marriage and decides to get out. First she returns to college, so that her graduation and her divorce coincide. Then she finds stimulating work as a film critic and teacher of motion picture appreciation. Evidently she was never very interested in being a mother. Ruth grew up as a latchkey child while her mother sought escape from her unhappy marriage in the darkened movie theaters.
By way of contrast with the prevailing morbidity and anxiety that distinguish his story, Rosen interweaves short scenes in which his hero has to deal with assorted eccentric Russian immigrants to whom he teaches English as a second language on a part-time basis for twelve dollars an hour. The humor is reminiscent of the stories about Hyman Kaplan published by Leonard Q. Ross in The New Yorker and first collected under the title The Education of H*y*m*a*n* K*a*p*l*a*n* (1937). Ruth’s father, who might be said to...
(The entire section is 2010 words.)