Friday, 28 March 2008

Love in the Present Tense

Title: Love in the Present Tense

Author: Catherine Ryan Hyde

Number of pages: 304

Started: 27 March 2008

Finished: 28 March 2008

Opening words:

PEARL, age 13: dying lessons

One night when I was seven I watched a man die. He was on the street under my bedroom window. I was on my knees looking out. The sound, it had woke me. The window was open for air, which there was not much of, and what there was did not move. The curtain did not blow aside, and it was dark in my room, and I knew they could not see me.

The man who was going to die was on his knees. Like myself. Only with his arms out. Not up, like a stickup. Straight out, like Christ on his cross, only with his knees bent. I call him a man because I was only seven at the time. To me he looked big. Now I can remember his face, both before and after, and I know he was maybe sixteen. But I mistook him for a man.

Plot summary:

Love in the present tense is the story of Mitch, Leonard and Pearl.

Mitch is a young unmarried owner of a web design service, who’s having an affair with a married, much older woman, the mayor’s wife.

Pearl is a half black, half Korean teenage single mother who lives next door. She came up from L.A. with her young son Leonard a few years after killing his father, a police officer, minutes after the baby was conceived.

Leonard is a precocious 5-year-old mixed race child, with asthma and a serious eye condition, who makes friends with Mitch from the upstairs window.

Their lives collide when Pearl leaves Leonard at Mitch’s house and never comes back.
The reader knows what Mitch and Leonard initially don’t—Pearl died that night. Leonard knows instinctively. He sees Pearl in candle flames and little sparrows. Mitch assumes Pearl dropped the kid on his doorstep and took a powder. But they grow up together, even though Mitch must eventually surrender Leonard to a two-parent adoption home. Still, their bond as parent and child—though shifting—endures, teaching Mitch the concept of “forever love.” Now Mitch’s dilemma is to keep the teenage Leonard from flirting with mortal danger as a way of following his beloved mother into the beyond.

In the end Leonard is able to answer the questions about his mother’s death and his own background, and to get a look at his classic childhood “bogeyman,” who turns out to be nothing more than a flawed human being.

Synopsis taken from Catherine Ryan Hyde’s website.

You can also watch a video about the book here.

What I thought:

I have read a couple of Catherine Ryan Hyde’s other books and liked those, particularly Pay it Forward. I enjoyed the idealism and innocence of them. In some ways this book had those same qualities to it and had some nice aspects to it, including Leonard’s belief in love that could last forever, even if someone is no longer in your life. It also managed to do this in a way that wasn’t really sugar-coated, it was (in a good way) more matter of fact than that, because to Leonard it was just very simple – you could love someone forever, just because you could.

I did enjoy this book and despite it being 300 pages long, it only takes about 3 or 4 hours to read. I didn’t get as much enjoyment out of it as I did from some of her other books, but I liked some of the themes in it – about love being something that can endure regardless and that despite Leonard being abandoned at a very young age people took him in and he was as much a part of them and their lives as if he had truly been their own. I suspect these themes are better brought out in other books (although none spring to mind) but nonetheless I liked the innocence that this book showed, which is very at odds with a lot of other literature.

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