I’ll admit it: while the premise of Mary Gordon’s The Love of my Youth did at first intrigue me, it was the cover of the book that motivated me not only to purchase this novel, but to place it in front of everything else on my to-read list. On the aforementioned cover is a beautiful, nostalgia-inducing photograph of a bridge, the Ponte Giuseppe Mazzini, over the Tiber River in Rome at dawn—and I’ve never even been to Rome! Thus allured, I was primed to enjoy the subsequent story of reunited lovers Adam and Miranda as they meet again after nearly forty years apart.
I will warn those who have not yet read this book of its cumbersome beginning. In order to bring her protagonists together, Gordon tasks herself with the burden of explaining the hard-to-believe fact that the former sweethearts have heard nothing of each other since their difficult breakup in 1971. In October 2007, the time of the book’s primary action, Adam and Miranda find themselves spouseless in Rome. Miranda, an epidemiologist, is in Italy for work. Adam, a music teacher, is in the midst of an extended residence in Rome chaperoning his daughter’s musical studies. When a dinner arranged by a mutual friend goes sour, Adam and Miranda agree to meet for daily walks to reacquaint with one another.
Once the novel accomplishes its awkward introduction, it becomes quite an engaging read. Adam and Miranda walk the streets of Rome each morning to visit the various tourist destinations and discuss the turns of their lives since they last parted. Miranda, married with two sons, excels in her career and appears to have maintained a good deal of her youthful ambition to ease the suffering of others. Adam, a talented and dedicated pianist, is on his second marriage (the heartbreaking circumstances of the first are eventually revealed) and continues to plod along in the only job he has ever had: teaching piano to young people whose musical aspirations resemble those he once nurtured in himself. Over the course of the narrative, Gordon treats her readers to flashbacks of the inception and dissolution of Adam and Miranda’s years-long relationship. These recollections make sense of the years spent without contact and the burden that is lifted now that they are finally able to learn what has become of one another.
For me, the most interesting theme of The Love of my Youth was its focus on the idea of acceptance. While Adam and Miranda have much to forgive of themselves and each other, their shared history and natural dispositions are such that, though they never had the opportunity to verbalize it, forgiveness was always implied. Instead, I was more interested in the pair’s ability to accept the circumstances of their lives once the disintegration of their relationship derailed what they originally supposed was their destiny.
For Miranda, acceptance came much easier. Though she missed out on experiences she always dreamed would be complemented by the presence of Adam—a traditional wedding and the privilege of bearing his children—Miranda appreciates the course her life ultimately took. She revels in motherhood and welcomes the perspective her conversion to Judaism has given her. For Adam, however, the journey toward acceptance appears incomplete. Even as the novel nears its final pages, Adam, brimming with regret, painfully wonders if his life’s purpose would have been better served alongside Miranda.
I thoroughly enjoyed my time with Mary Gordon’s The Love of my Youth. This novel comes recommended, especially to those with firsthand experience with the topography of Rome.