LOVE STORY / Erich Segal. 1970. (131 pgs)
First Sentence: “What can you say about a twenty-five year old girl who died?”
Prevailing Narrative Voice: First-person narrator and central character. Interestingly, the character of Oliver Barrett, IV a young, confident and privileged Harvard law student is so self-absorbed that the tone of the first sentence, “what can YOU say…” pitches the opening of the story into the second person by presuming WE think as HE does.
What the reader learns in first paragraphs: We learn that the story will be told in retrospect. He has a very strong attachment to the twenty-five year old girl whose name is Jenny. She has very strong opinions about music and that when she refers to Bach, Mozart or The Beatles he is compelled to insert himself into the lineup.
What the reader learns in first 10 pages: The reader learns a lot about Oliver even though he is referring to his experiences of meeting (and allowing) Jenifer to be wooed by him. We learn they attend rival academic schools – Harvard / Radcliffe – and the rivalry is used to good advantage during their first date. Surprisingly, they are very resistant to the attraction they both feel, which keeps us reading. We learn that Oliver has a tempestuous relationship with his father (Oliver Barrett, III). Young Oliver is handsome. Jenny has nice legs. Oliver plays for the Harvard ice hockey team and he’s a stud on the ice. Jenny loves music, has brains, pluck and no shame about her ethnic Italian background. Oliver is somewhat pompous but without limit to his charm… and he knows it. Oh, yes! And we learn that by the end of the book, Jenny will be dead.
Character: Even in these few pages we understand that the story will not stray very far from the two central characters. It’s their love. It’s their story. If I can remember back to the movie FORTY years ago, the father shares an important story line that parallels Oliver’s maturation progress and loss.
Setting: Harvard, Cambridge, Boston, and other preppy hang outs in New England. What’s interesting about setting in this book is that it will be secondary to the two main characters, which is tightly focused on Oliver and Jenny. Where ever they go or whatever they do the setting reflects their energy. Their quibbling animosity for who will remain on top is reflected in the library where she is the (dominatrix) librarian who must be brought down, or at the hockey game where he is king of the ice and can’t be bothered by her clamoring questions (but can’t stop wondering if she is watching him).
Plot & Expectations beyond tenth page: Love and a good story. And music.
What makes this a successful first ten pages: Right off the bat we know how the story will end. Everything that follows is balanced against the fact that this twenty-five year old girl is going to die. The setting is clear – Harvard, and the good-natured rivalry between Harvard and everywhere else is reflected in the scenes between Oliver and Jenny. It keeps the reader hooked by begging the question, “how will these two ever get together?” and then once hooked, mercilessly reminds the reader, “…she’s going to die!”
Random Comments: According to the copyright page, the book and the movie both came out in the same year; 1970.