It’s a novel by Alfred Coppel, published in 1972. I was in my early 20’s when I picked it up from a used book store. Last summer, I came across my musty copy amongst the bric-a-brac around the cottage and sat down to it again.
It was quite a journey. What struck me as somewhat otherworldly about reading the story again was that I was now completely at the other end of the time spectrum in relation to the central character. Originally, I was reading about a 50+ guy going through some things rather acutely related to aging. Now, I was that guy.
I liked the story as much as the first time, but I certainly felt it a bunch more this time. It occurred to me that the author must have traveled both ends of that journey as well. When I checked, sure enough, Coppel was 51 years old when the book was published.
What I suppose touched me about the story more than anything was the link between love and melancholy that I suspect aging underlines with each passing day. I’ve felt it in my own life; that sense that love no longer really “matters” somehow, only to be rudely awakened to its power through a memory or association.
The melancholy comes in the form that the passage of time has cut down the possibilities to a scant choice or two, unlike the endless promise of youth.
The protagonist in the book has to grapple with the painful practicalities of love with a much younger woman and the knowledge that time is his worst enemy. Although the story ends in sadness, it gently underlines that love survives, that it matters and that, as much as it costs to feel, it’s something not worth living without.
Not too long ago, I ran into a woman I think I’d somehow forgotten I’ve loved for perhaps more than 20 years. I think having read that story, I was able to feel that feeling, albeit briefly, for what it was truly worth.