Love May Fail
Copy courtesy of Pan Macmillan AUS
When Portia Kane catches her husband cheating on her, that’s the end of their marriage. She bids goodbye to their comfortable life in Florida, paid for by her husband’s career of making porn films and flees back to her childhood home in Philadelphia. There she settles back into a life she thought she’d long left behind: her childlike, hoarding mother who hasn’t touched Portia’s room since Portia left high school but has crammed the rest of the house with overflowing piles of….things. A chance encounter with an old classmate puts Portia in mind of Mr Vernon, her old English teacher, a figure that for Portia, was as close to a father as she ever had.
Learning from the classmate that Mr Vernon retired and disappeared after a violent attack in his classroom, Portia suddenly finds herself filled with purpose. She’s going to track down Mr Vernon and save him from his reclusive lifestyle and get him back to doing the thing he was meant to do – teach. It’s not going to be easy but she’s going to have a little bit of help along the way from a rather enlightened nun and Chuck, the brother of Portia’s old classmate. Portia also might just find the confidence to pen the novel that she feels as always been inside of her.
Love May Fail is the latest novel from Matthew Quick, author of Silver Linings Playbook among others. This is the first novel I’ve read by Quick, although Silver Linings Playbook has been on my wishlist for a little while now. The book opens with Portia catching her rather slimy husband in the act of bringing a young woman home, believing Portia to be away. This finally seems to give Portia the motivation required to leave him, although you get the feeling she hasn’t been happy in a very long time. The only place for Portia to go is back ‘home’, the house where she grew up. The reader is given a rather comprehensive look into what Portia’s childhood must have been like and it’s quite sad and you can understand why she might have clung to a teacher that inspired her, that gave her some semblance of praise and feeling of normality. When Portia learns what has happened to Mr Vernon, she’s horrified (and it is pretty horrifying). She decides that finding him and ‘fixing him’ will be the task she embraces.
I think that a lot of these ideas that Portia has are good – in theory. However I’m not at all sure I could agree with the way in which she goes about attempting to fix Mr Vernon. She comes across as really quite pushy and selfish and it seems that her desperation is all about fulfilling her own desire to achieve something, to make Mr Vernon her accomplishment. At times she’s quite cruel to him, given the poor guy is pretty traumatised (and rightly so) by what happened to him. Teaching is something that I don’t think you appreciate really until you’re an adult and realise what it must be like to deal with disinterested students, rude students and in the case of Mr Vernon, students who attack you physically. It’s a profession that can have its rewards but it seems like it can also suck the life right out of you and that’s what it seems like it’s done here. Portia is so focused on her task that she doesn’t seem to grasp the fact that she’s going about it the wrong way. All her attempts to motivate Mr Vernon are just panicking him.
The narrative is split into four parts: Portia, Mr Vernon, letters from the nun that Portia meets and then Chuck (followed by an epilogue from Portia’s point of view) and I think there are both strengths and weaknesses in this format. The downside is that when you begin to get comfortable in a character’s head, the narrator changes and you’re kind of left hanging, wondering. This is particularly true after Mr Vernon has his turn at narrating. Given he was so psychologically damaged, I’d have liked a little more information about how he came to be in the position he was in at the end of the book. But the trade off is that you get to know more than you would if the whole thing were told from one person’s point of view. I really enjoyed the letters from the nun, although to be honest, I probably would’ve reacted in exactly the same way if someone had told me my devastating injury was some sort of divine plan. The religion is heavy handed, but the character is a nun so you have to expect that. I found her to be sharp and funny, although that part does require some suspension of disbelief if you aren’t religious (which I am not).
I found the section where Portia writes a novel to be interesting. That part of the story is told from the point of view of her boyfriend Chuck and details the process of getting it published and going through the rounds of reviews. The book is quite heavily savaged, which was quite different to read from the point of view of someone close to the novelist. There’s no denying that negative reviews must be disappointing – more than disappointing. It happens a lot, books just don’t find their market or hit it at the right time. Authors touching on reviews has become a big no-no in recent times, so to explore it through the act of having a character go through it was rather a different take on it but overall, I’m not sure it was one that really worked.
I mostly enjoyed this book and found it relatively easy to read and I did become invested in the story. But I was to be honest, much more invested in poor Mr Vernon’s story than I was in Portia’s. I found most of her story unnecessary, the bit with her ex-husband towards the end a prime example. I think I would’ve crossed the line into loving it if it had focused more on Mr Vernon primarily, once he was properly introduced instead of reverting back to more about Portia.
Book #108 of 2015