Another small part of my youth just died. Not a part I am terribly proud of, let me hasten to add. But something that admittedly gave me many hours of maudlin pleasure. The love that dare not speak its name. Erich Segal died on Sunday, age 72.
It is difficult to mistake Segal's 1970 bestseller Love Story for a work of art. By most measures it is shallow, unexceptional, and unashamedly simplistic. It is overly sentimental, mushy, weepy, and in its most famous parts, cringe-worthy corny ("Love means never having to say you are sorry"? Please!).
Here is the thing though - In my gangly youth, I loved this 'corny' book! I adored the opening lines (What can you say about a twenty-five year old girl who died? That she was beautiful. And brilliant. That she loved Mozart and Bach. And the Beatles. And Me.) I wept like a little girl when Jenny died.
I read the book many times over, most recently last year, when I had a decidedly less teary reaction to it. Love Story was never a great book, but I can't easily recall another I have read more times. It didn't all end with Love Story either. I happily read the sequel (Oliver's Story), The Class and Man, Woman and Child. This last of course was restored to a Segal worthy level of poignancy by Shekhar Kapur with his Bollywood adaptation, Masoom. That aside, none of these books touched the same chord that for some yet unknown reason Love Story did, and quickly, the Segal charm faded away.
When great writers of the 20th century are listed, Segal will not be discussed. He will not be considered worthy of a footnote mention. But as Erich Segal himself said when talking about Love Story (and his lack of success in getting the literary critics to his corner), "It was my little Camelot and it can't be taken away". Indeed. I can't take away Love Story from the narrative of my youth either. RIP, Erich Segal.