________________ CM . . . . Volume XII Number 19 . . . . May 26, 2006


The Romantic.

Barbara Gowdy.
Toronto, ON: HarperCollins Canada, 2003.
371 pp., pbk., $21.95.
ISBN 0-00-639226-1.

Grades 11 and up / Ages 16 and up.

Review by Joanne Peters.

**** /4


The past isn't fixed if it isn't dead. How are we supposed to preserve it? If it lives – lives on in our memories, as we're always saying – then it can spoil.

Right after Abel died, every memory of him was so fresh that it seemed part of an ongoing story, like the smell of somebody's cigarette smoke or perfume lingering in an empty room. I kept expecting to hear his voice. Whenever the phone rang, my heart would race, as if it might be him.

But within a few days, these kinds of feelings were already fading, and then the older memories started to arrive. You hear about a flood; mine washed up at odd moments and in pieces, like debris from a plane crash. I'd be brushing my teeth and see his hands on the piano keys twenty years ago, his boy's hands with their blunt fingers and chipped nails, and for a moment I'd know, as purely as such a thing can be known, what his mother had meant when she'd phoned and said, “He's gone.”


Three years after Abel Richter's death, Louise Kirk still finds herself wondering about both his life and its sad end. And, as she recollects the 25 years of their relationship, she wonders more and more, “Is that what really happened?” On December 8, 1960, an immigrant family moves into Greenwoods, a mythical subdivision in post-war Toronto, and into Louise's life. Motherless, Louise falls in love, first with Mrs. Richter (who is everything that her vain, sarcastic, and pathologically uncaring mother is not) and then, with their adopted son, Abel. One day, Grace Kirk “disappears”; the former professional model takes her jewellery, the trophies and crowns of her career as a beauty queen, and a set of white satin bed sheets and leaves home, without a trace. Emotional sustenance comes at the Richter home; Louise's father is blind-sided by his wife's desertion, and life at school is the usual maelstrom of mean-spiritedness of which young girls of a certain age are ruthlessly capable.

     Abel's family clearly dotes on him, but despite their unconditional love, he is remarkably unspoiled; still, he is talented, sensitive, and brilliant. Of course, as they both mature, Louise finds, to her despair, that other girls find him equally attractive. And, he is not immune to their charms, their flattery, their attentions. Over the years, they experience periods of estrangement, reunion, other relationships, and despair, as Abel spirals into alcoholism. Like a romantic hero, he is cursed with a fatal weakness, and which, perversely, makes him all the more attractive to Louise, and makes her all the more desperate to attempt to save him.

     The Romantic tells a story of a love that can only begin in one's idealistic youth when all romantic possibilities are open and endless, and which continues, despite bitter realities. Gowdy's narrative moves swiftly and smoothly between the past and the present, and by the time the tale is done, you're amazed. This is a book for older readers, and it's a book for young women who typically disdain “romance”. The Romantic is no formula romance – the writing, the characterization, and Gowdy's picture perfect details of life during the sixties and seventies, make this a great read. Buy it, read it, enjoy it, and then put it on the shelves of your high school library.

Highly Recommended.

Joanne Peters is a teacher-librarian at Kelvin High School in Winnipeg, MB.

To comment on this title or this review, send mail to cm@umanitoba.ca.

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