Wednesday, July 29, 2009

The Romantics by Galt Niederhoffer

My first thought upon finishing this book: thank g-d I didn't go to Yale! I can't imagine having college "friends" like those depicted in the novel. At the same time, I think the book realisticly encapsulates the dynamics between a clique of college friends. In my own group of college friends, much like the clique in the novel, there are two sets of married couples who dated since college as well as a variety of other connections that span the group (including those who are now married). Our "incest" is pretty humorous, but nowhere as lined up and all encompassing as those in this novel.  The Romantics also realistically portrays how ties change post college. In this instance there are two married couples, learning new parts of their partners, and two engaged couples, with one female paired with a newcomer (what a strange position to be within the group!). While the individuals in the group are still connected and share in one another's lives, there is a distance that has developed now that they no longer live together and partake in the same activites as one another.

The novel is in many ways a satire. There is a strong sense of humor laced throughout the book. For example, as Janet Maslin points out in her NYT review, "one of the rich, adrift Yale chums in the novel never quite managed to apply to film school after graduation. But he did buy expensive screenwriting software, read part of its manual and write an unfinished script 'about a clique of college friends who reunite at a funeral.'" Niederhoffer understands that this isn't a new genre; and yet she approaches it in a different way then those who have come before and after. In the last couple of months I have read both A Fortunate Age and Commencement - two other novels that involve college friends reuniting for a wedding - and yet The Romantics stood apart as a totally different perspective on reuniting friends. I didn't draw any parallels between those two books (which my reviews show I greatly enjoyed) and The Romantics while enmeshed in this entertaining story.

Maslin writes: "Six years after college, the old friends gather to dissect one another’s successes and failures amid the rocky, picturesque tranquillity of this Maine island. All of them are sharp-eyed enough to know whose family “landed on the wrong side of Plymouth Rock” and who has been favored by fortune." As in The Commencement and A Fortunate Age, the friends are gathered together for the wedding of a college friend (in this particular case two college friends).  The maid of honor is unethused for the wedding, not because she cannot believe one of her friends is getting married (this is the case among the girls in A Fortunate Age), but because she still loves the groom, and has a major love-hate relationship with the bride.

The Romantics is more cynical than romantic. It offers a somewhat frightening view of marriage and twenty-something life. I found myself oddly detached from the characters. I didn't care for any of them. They all seemed self-centered and unaware of the larger problems of the world.  And yet I still cared about the resolution of the novel. I suppose I felt the most affinity for Laura, the outsider, and lone Jewess in the group, the maid of honor suffering through a painful weekend.  But I didn't empathize with her as much as I found her the most interesting. Overall, I find this book emotes more laughs and questions than emotions.  

After finishing the novel, I did some research on the author (as I tend to do). I always want the extras....  Ms. Niederhoffer's own story  is almost more fascinating than the book itself. I need to read her first novel which is somewhat based on her own life.

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