The Fault in Our Stars, I decided to revisit the love story that broke the young romantic hearts of my generation: Erich Segal's Love Story.
I will say up front and center: The Fault is better. The writing style is more sophisticated. The characters are more developed. The story deals with death more intimately and much more realistically. The connection between Hazel Grace and Augustus Waters is deeper and more heartfelt than the relationship between Oliver and Jenny, even though they are all supposed to be intellectuals of some sort.
Love Story is almost still an outline. The story was published too soon and still needs work. It isn't finished! Yes, it's a classic but it can never be called literature. The success of the story in 1970 must have been due to timing. Jenny was ethnic in an era when the blonde-haired blue-eyed standard of beauty was being challenged by the "other." It was what we wanted to read and see at the time.
Here's a brief summary of the story: Harvard jock meets Radcliffe music student. Oliver Barrett IV has generations of wealth and accomplishment behind him. Jenny Cavalleri is the daughter of an Italian baker, although her father is specifically not an immigrant and does not speak Italian. The social gap between the lovers is wide but the disparity of their class is part of what attracts them to each other. They date, marry while still in school against the wishes of Oliver's parents, and then struggle to make ends meet. Oliver achieves success with his wife's help and then - blam - she dies.
The heart of this story is about Oliver and his father, not about Oliver and Jenny.
Oliver gets good grades, excels in sports, but is angry at his father because he gets no recognition for his accomplishments. Oliver is expected to do well because he's a Barrett and generations of Barretts have always done well. There's even an underlying suggestion that many of Oliver's accomplishments are due, not to his personal efforts, but instead due to his last name and the financial contributions made by his father.
Jenny is this perfect character with no apparent faults. Everyone in the neighborhood loves her. She sleeps with Oliver without expecting a relationship. She marries Oliver when he's broke and then helps her husband through law school. Jenny doesn't even suffer tremendously when she becomes ill and only asks to be held tightly right before she dies.
Jenny's illness and death scene is shorter and less detailed than Oliver's opening hockey games which play no significant part in the story. (And what's with the doctor telling Oliver that Jenny is sick and asking him to keep the information to himself? WTF? My God, times really have changed.)
Love Story is about how Oliver stands up to his father, makes his way in the world, graduates third in his class without his father's assistance, learns the value of money, and then acknowledges the unconditional love he feels for his father after he has matured and become a successful man in his own right. With a little more work, Love Story might have been a work of literature but probably not the great success it was in theaters.