Mary Gordon's The Love of My Youth takes place in Rome, where sixty year old Miranda and Adam are unexpectedly reunited with each other after forty years apart. As the title quite obviously suggests, they were each other's first loves, a devoted couple throughout high school and college until a betrayal (which is slowly revealed during the course of the book) caused a sudden and final break between them. When they meet again in Rome, both are married with grown children. What results is not a renewal of their former romantic feelings, but rather a series of tentative steps toward getting reacquainted with one another. Unfolding primarily through a series of conversations they have as they walk around Roman landmarks, the novel highlights the ways in which they have dramatically changed from the young adults they were when they first knew one another, as well as the ways in which, for better or worse, they have stayed the same.
Although the conversations between Miranda and Adam make up the heart of the novel, they're actually one of its biggest weaknesses. To a certain degree I admired the way in which Gordon was able to weave the inner thoughts of both characters together with their dialogue. It's no easy feat to shift between points of view and she pulls it off in a way that smoothly reveals Miranda and Adam's back story. Yet there was a certain tone to all of the dialogue that made it feel extremely false, like nothing people in the real world would ever actually say to one another. There were so many lines that felt like they were straining to be intellectual. Miranda and Adam's comments to each other are overly poetic and very self-involved, with the feel of a carefully planned script rather than an actual conversation. This made the novel as whole feel pedantic and draining. In theory, I was interested in the fact that these two characters were rediscovering each other through these conversations. In reality, though, there were several times when I found myself wishing that I didn't have to be privy to them.
I can't say that I truly liked this novel, and I certainly can't say that I liked these two characters, but there was a certain richness to Gordon's writing that may make me willing to give something else of hers a try in the future.