Here’s another book I read as a young adult that had a huge impact on my view of life and particularly of love. It’s also one of the very few novels by a male author that has remained a favourite over the years. I read it first as a Reader’s Digest Condensed Book — yes, I know some people are snobby about those, but those brown-bound volumes were a staple in my house growing up, and many’s the fine book I read first in condensed form which inspired me to go out and get the complete novel, so no dissing them on my turf.
The Last Convertible is the story of five young men who become friends during their first year at Harvard in 1940, on the brink of World War Two — and of the women they date and fall in love with during their college years. The story follows the cast of characters through the war years and beyond, ending in 1976 with the original characters all middle-aged and their children ready to take on the adult world.
This novel is beautifully evocative of a time and place and the mood of a generation. More than that, for me, it was a novel that gave me an insight into love and romance that was lacking in many of the books I read. One of the novel’s central characters is Christabel Farris, one of those girls in fiction that I read about and wanted desperately to be — beautiful, vivacious, life-embracing — the girl every one of the guys is either secretly or openly in love with. Her schoolgirl romance with would-be writer Russ goes wrong and she ends up marrying a guy she doesn’t love for that most practical of reasons — she’s having a baby. I won’t give away too much in case you ever want to read this (and you should!) but I will say that there’s a scene which occurs at their 25-year-reunion which made me realize that the literary convention of an undying love that holds you in its grip throughout a lifetime could just as easily be a prison and a trap. I read this book sometime in my late teens or early 20s and it made me think seriously about how we change and our dreams change as we grow older. Rereading it in midlife, I find many of its insights have held true. That’s not why I reread it though — I reread it every few years because it’s a great story, and revisiting the characters again is like a reunion with old friends.