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Love Story: Didn’t Love It

July 14, 2011

Love Story
Jennifer Echols
Simon and Schuster $11.00 243 pages. YA. I hope.

Erin Blackwell comes to New York to major in creative writing, leaving behind everything familiar- an affluent upbringing among Kentucky’s horse breeding elite families. Her grandmother, furious that Erin won’t major in business and take over the family farm, cuts her granddaughter off, leaving Erin to struggle to pay for college and hold down a job. Erin has only one familiar face in her creative writing class- the son of the stablehand, bound up in her family’s history of secrets and a class divide. Trouble is- she’s written him into her first story. And soon, they’ve got a weird, almost epistolary communication going, as their writing group workshops their overwwrought emotional stories, and in the class is reading between the lines.

Before I go into what didn’t work for me about Love Story, I’ll say this: I like Echols’ writing overall. I like her prose style, whatever trouble I’m having with the narrative itself. I like how Echols describes things. Not too flowery, just easy to visualize. The strong muscles of a horse at the track, Erin absently over-polishing her boots while having a heated discussion, even Erin’s odd roommate cutting out thousands of faces for an art project. And I like some of the supporting characters- I would have liked to see Erin’s roommate Summer, and class antagonist, Manohar, given more complex roles to play. So, maybe I would like reading something else by Echols, with a different setup.

Additional disclaimer- maybe one reason this book made me wince was that it captured being 18 and in a writing class exceptionally well. Erin seemed bratty and thin-skinned, and self absorbed. Even before her classmates ripped into the story that set things rolling, she seemed defensive and bratty about having written a romance novel. Although she’s cut off from her grandmother’s fortune, I see a lot of the spoiled rich girl in her narration, and even in subtle actions, from saving her expensive face cream, to being careful to wear thrift shop clothes in order to disguise the money she comes from.

Onto the rest of the story— Hunter, the stable boy, the love interest, the handsome enigma. Erin doesn’t get out of her own head and her worries about writing, money, and one upping Hunter, enough to really pay attention to what Hunter’s like, and that there might be a romance there. Or is there? It’s hard to tell. Erin’s narration overshadows things, casting them as bratty and fake, when maybe they could have been authentic. The artifice of the story’s setup makes it feel contrived, and not in the gloriously campy way that makes reading a more traditional romance so much fun. Manipulations and secrets, even a scandal that, when Erin feeds it into a story, the creative writing class shouts down as cliche. Would this book work better for someone younger to read? Would Erin’s voice gel perfectly with what a 19 year old thinks and does? I’m somewhat afraid to open my old journal notebooks to check.

I would have enjoyed this book more, if it seemed to be enjoying itself, playing the soap opera rich-girl-stable-boy romance for laughs and camp, or just a bit more arch and less earnest.

Thanks to Erica Feldon, Publicity Manager at Gallery Books, for sending this my way… I’m sorry that it really wasn’t a book I enjoyed.

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