Love means never having to say you’re sorry, writes Jennifer Pilato…
This is the famous line from the honored romantic novel by Erich Segal, Love Story. The novel was first published in 1970 and follows the sharp-witted Jennifer Cavilleri and the wealthy jock Oliver Barrett IV and their road to love and marriage. The novel was published 13 years before I was born, but I remember so many times growing up my mother stopping when it was showing on television, the romantic tragedy that captivated everyone who read it.
The novel was republished this year with a beautiful forward by Mr Segal’s daughter Francesca, speaking of how she missed out on the millions of copies that were sold, the beginning of her father’s fame, the roaring box office. Her forward honors her father’s work. She talks about how in writing this novel, her father let people believe in love again. The story finds two young people falling in love, despite their differences (he is a WASP who feels held back by his family’s legacy and his father’s tough love; she is sharp, sarcastic, poor girl who calls her father Phil). They fall in love over what we would now call a meet-cute where she tries to play hard to get but really isn’t and Oliver is instantly drawn to her.
Francesca Segal writes poetically about her father – a professor who was beloved by the world, envied by his academic community, and though Francesca was not yet born to watch her father’s success, she calls him an extraordinary man, who had a big heart and wrote in that way. His novels were mostly about the triumphs and trials of love. He captivated his audience with relatable relationships.
Francesca tells of how her father was just thirty years old when he sat down one winter day to write this novel. She tells of the story of one of her father’s former students who lost his young wife to cancer at just twenty-five years old. Her father was still grieving over the loss of his father and understood completely. So began the novel of relationships between woman and man as well as man and his complicated relationship with his father. She speaks of that time in America when this was the novel that “everyone was waiting to read”.
The country was in the midst of a devastating time: the early death of Martin Luther King Jr, the devastating Vietnam War, and this is what people needed to absorb. Her father took on plots dealing with complicated relationships that dealt with a broad range of topics: religion, economy, class, parent relationships, man and woman relationships, infidelity, and medicine.
Erich Segal’s plot in Love Story is instantly engaging. You’re instantly taken into this whirlwind of a novel. Oliver and Jennifer stand for what most people wish they had. A partner, someone who understood them no matter the differences between them. The book often makes you laugh out loud with Jennifer’s quick comebacks and sharp tongue, but also draws you so deeply into their relationship that the end devastates you just the same.
The other plot that is so important to the story is Oliver’s obvious disgust for his last name and his father who gave it to him. His family is well known and wealthy and his father wants him to get opportunity from it. Oliver wants nothing to do with his last name and is more enamored with Jenny for ignoring its implications. He separates himself from his family when they will not support his impending marriage to the lovely Jenny and they struggle the first few years of their marriage to make ends meet. Oliver, however, is full of love and admiration for his young bride and does not regret his decision. Eventually, Jenny and Oliver decide they want to have a baby only to find out that Jenny is sick and only has months to live. This is crushing to them and crushing to the reader.
Our hearts beat faster along with Oliver’s as he scrounges for every dollar to get his wife the best care he can get her and we pray something will change. He goes to his father for money, not wanting to tell him why he needs it, and lies to him. His father gives it without too much of a fight. However, after Jenny’s devastating death at the end of the novel, Oliver’s father comes to him after learning the truth, full of his own regret and Oliver gives into the relationship to cry to his father.
Love Story swept the nation back in the 1970s when the country needed a bit of hope and although the end of the novel is devastating, the love between Jenny and Oliver gave hope again. It was a beautiful, poised, profound story of finding the person who completes you and you would give up everything for, but also focuses on the complication of family and the deep sadness of loss.
There is no question that Francesca Segal admired her father and his work and his sad passing in 2010 leaves behind a legacy of sharp, quick witted, brilliant, lovely novels which will continue to touch upon new generations. I consider it an honor to have been given the opportunity to read Love Story on the verge of turning thirty myself, having just gotten married and knowing the amazing feeling of being that deeply in love with someone.
Love Story has now been republished and will most likely grow again to touch new generations who need the hope of love again. Francesca ends her forward to her father’s famous novel by saying, ” My father adored even the ancient roots of popular entertainment and unlike many others in his field, understood that to move the broader public, to speak to the hearts of the people is far from trivial. It requires an understanding of and care for everyman. It is to the everyman, in real life, that tragedy happens and above all, love.” It is a perfect tribute to a man who gave his readers so much understanding of their needs for the hope of love.
Jennifer Pilato is currently living in New Jersey with her husband after their own eight-year love story and working on her own first novel.