New Jersey: 18 October 2011
for general distribution--
Some stories, written at specific times in history, inevitably become dated as references, both direct and indirect, lose their relevance. This is the problem when an author, writing only for his own age, attempts to be 'hip' and to rely on esoteric current events and references in more than an incidental way. But some stories, notably The Great Gatsby, though they may seem but snapshots into a particular period, both convey to contemporary readers the zeitgeist of their own time and still stand as historical mementoes to entertain and enlighten future generations.
Comparisons to Gatsby are unavoidable when perusing Love Me Do (Surf City Source Media Group), reportedly Jonnie Comet's first novel. Begun when the author was still in high school himself, this old-fashioned love story, containing several clever twists, stands as an authentic view of what teenaged life was like in the mid-1970s. Refreshingly, unlike later depictions of the same period, Love Me Do does not descend into sex, drugs and rebellion, too often presumed to be the main forces of that time. In their place is a tender portrayal of two unexpectedly shy teens embarking on a chaste romance that seems to parallel the zeitgeist of an even earlier age.
On the surface it is a typical tale of people from opposite ends of society, a popular, pretty cheerleader from a happy middle-class home and a prodigal rock-and-roll musician and hot-rodder from a fractious working-class background. Through a series of unique circumstances, they become attracted to each other, socialise, fall apart due to conflicting social influences and then suffer in shyness and silence whilst hoping to resume their relationship on more sensible and serious grounds.
The similarities to Gatsby are conspicuous-- and intended. Jonnie Comet has claimed that reading Gatsby in 11th year was his single major inspiration to write in the first place. The author has described LMD as 'a classic chivalric romance reset in 1970s Connecticut.' The two protagonists, Jon and Jeanne, almost wilfully play out romantic roles from the days of chivalry. Symbolic elements, such as a silver Chevy as his trusty grey stallion, contribute both aesthetically and thematically to the motif of a would-be knight in shining armour intent on meriting a virtuous maiden upon a pedestal through noble feats. After one dramatic fight sequence, Jeanne blushes to spy two figurines in his mother's parlour: '...David the modest but valiant giant-slayer, looking protectively over his shoulder at the beautiful but defenceless Venus DiMilo'. The parallel is not lost on her, nor on the reader.
Dualities abound in this novel, imposing both conflict and contradiction. Beautiful, charming and universally coveted, the girl who should have everything, Jeanne is encumbered by a dual nature rendering her patently indecisive. She will shun any single course that might upset a friend or, within the chaste context of the story, disappoint a boy. As if against her own wishes she frequently finds herself dating two boys over the same period, even whilst she pines for the only one who has ever truly aroused her heart.
Though a creative musician and artist by birth and choice, Jon is unexpectedly ethical and conservative, resistant to unnecessary risks especially where his own heart is concerned. In the first half of the book he blows three or four good opportunities to reconnect with the girl whom he has always wanted but whom he humbly believes he does not deserve. Their mutually unrequited attraction dates to a first meeting when both were very young; but after he is required to save her from drowning neither one is able to come to terms with what that implies. So the story is their separate but corresponding attempts to mend the breach caused by embarrassment and to find common ground on which to base a real relationship.
As with all classic romances, innocently or forcefully suppressed sexuality is never absent. Jeanne is described in a beautiful dress 'flowing out about her like the petals of a flower about their pistil', a reference to her prominent purity. Jon wears a leather flier's jacket, suggesting both combat potential and brutish virility. But the story, though told sensually, is not about sexuality, but about the lack of it. The author's own Platonic conception of the ideal boy and girl does not require a carnal component, as though to say that before any of that, there are only two pairs of eyes, two voices, two minds and two hearts, and from those elements are the truest romances made.
As a period piece, Love Me Do's great virtue is of accurately depicting a time before mobile phones and the Internet, when young people too out of circulation might have only perceptions and fears on which to dwell. Even a phone call between Jon and Jeanne is thus partly climactic. But rather than dating it, the book's setting serves to illustrate the timeless theme of romance at its purest, as written by a romantic purist. In the forward to this, the twentieth-anniversary third edition, the author invites his reader to 'Delve into this book, live it, love it, dream it, drown in it, as though it were your first love-at-first-sight and first kiss all over again.' This unadulterated joy is the raison d'etre of Jonnie Comet's Love Me Do.
Love Me Do is available in paperback and Kindle e-text through Amazon.com or in paperback here--