Upon reading the deeply serious opening of Scott Spencer's Endless Love, you will very likely laugh out loud. The tone is something like what you might find in a teenager's diary: verbose, feverish, furiously self-important. This is a book, you know by the bottom of page one, beneath which the burners are always set on High.
For this reason Endless Love isn't destined to appear on Modern Library's 100 Best Novels list anytime soon. Its subject — the love between teenagers — is easy to dismiss. Its prose hovers close to purple, and the book's second life as an unspeakable Brooke Shields movie does nothing to enhance its aura.
But if you submit to its spell — if you give in, as you read it, to your own inner teenager — you may come to feel about it the way that I do. Which is to say that you may come to love it, deeply and embarrassingly and beyond all reason. You may love it, in other words, just the way that the 17-year-old protagonist, David, loves Jade.
When the book opens, in a Chicago suburb, David is just setting fire to the house of Jade and her family. Jade's parents, sensibly enough, have forbidden their daughter from seeing David, and this is more than he can bear. His notion, only vaguely formed, is that the fire will force Jade's family to come out of their house and see him. You won't be surprised to hear that all does not go according to plan.
This fire is only the first of the novel's TV-ready happenings. Close on its heels come hospitalizations, tearful reunions, screaming fights, a car accident and — since this is, after all, a love story about teenagers — sex.
In fact, Endless Love features some of the longest and most graphic literary depictions of sex you can find outside of Penthouse Forum. These are the kinds of scenes that will have you glancing around the train car, praying that you don't run into any of your co-workers.
And this gets at an important fact about Endless Love, which is that it isn't really meant to be read in public. I don't just mean that it could lead to an awkward conversation with your boss, though it could certainly do that. I mean that it's a book that asks to be experienced privately, as one's most searing memories ask to be experienced privately. If the book has done its job, by the time you get halfway through, you won't be thinking about literary quality or prose style — you'll simply be breathless, as David is, waiting to find out if Jade will speak to him again.
And by the time you've closed the book — which has one of the best and most piercing endings I've ever read — you won't be thinking about David and Jade anymore at all. You'll be thinking about yourself, remembering crossed-out journal entries and thrown-out keepsakes. You'll be back, for a while at least, in the era when obsessive, all-consuming love was the only kind there was.
My Guilty Pleasure is edited and produced by Ellen Silva with production assistance from Rose Friedman and Lacey Mason.