Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Erich Segal (1937-2010)

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.


  1. JS,

    Finally you agree with me!! In our college group, I was probably the only one who disliked Love Story (what wimps you all were!!).

    The one I liked better was "Oliver's Story" - should read it again now.

  2. I see that you haven't read my favorite Eric Segal book (at least not mentioned above)- Doctors.

    Same level of corny-ness as the others. But enjoyable.

  3. Am so glad you quoted the cringe-worthiest dialogue in the post itself - "Love means never having to say you're sorry" !! Even as a teenaged kid, that dialogue made me snort in disgust.

    Though I did totally enjoy the book's opening lines and the initial pages.

    'Oliver's Story' was as bad - man wallows in self-pity for a lot of pages. The hero reminded me a bit of 'Devdas' actually - whine-whine-do-nothihng-whine-whine-about-how-unfair-life-is. In all honesty, don't remember the book any more, only remember my reaction to it.


  4. Agree with Smoke+Mirrors - I liked Doctors the best of his books, closely followed by Man, Woman and Child.

    I felt nostalgic for my childhood when I read about his passing away. Even though he was too soppy a writer (even for my degenerate tastes), I somehow managed to read all 5 of his most popular books in my long forgotten youth.