It’s 1.30am GMT, and I’m sitting here contemplating after finishing the last page of this book not seven seconds ago. First love…it’s something you never forget, no matter how hard you try. I was 20 when I met my first love. When I look back on it I remember everything, the inside jokes, his love for Bette Davis movies, Vodka and Cherryade, the fact it took us six months to finally quit each other because we were both scared we’d never be the same, his psychotically jealous cat, the fact I looked better in his clothes than he did. I’ll never forget how he always smelled too strongly of detergent but the fact he also smelled like my cigarettes made it ok. I’ll never forgive him for falling out of love before I was ready and I don’t think he’ll ever forgive me for not being enough. I know this seems awfully personal to share in what should be a book review, but Kluger’s Almost Like Being In Love does this to you. It takes you back to a time when your heart was whole and you had a partner in crime that nothing in the world could steal from you.
Travis and Craig, the stories protagonists, meet in High School and fall deeply and irrevocably in love, but being the tender age of 17 and faced with being divided by over 2000 miles, are torn from each other. All this in only the first few chapters. The rest of the story jets forward 20 years to see Craig settled happily with the loveable giant, Clayton, and to see Travis having a somewhat comical affair with a theory involving The Bill of Rights and the Red Sox. I know nothing of American History or of Baseball, but even I could tell the ramblings of Travis were nothing if not hilarious and borderline psychotic. But they never forgot each other. 20 years and their first loves still remained right in the heart of it.
The second Act finds us on a road trip with Travis to find the one that got away those 20 years previously. But to make things complicated, it also settles comfortably into the beautiful and complete relationship between Clayton and Craig. The whole time I was reading, I could feel the un-happy ending coming (not saying it actually came!), and by the time I was done, my eyes were swollen red in my face like Kluger had personally grabbed my eyelids and attached them by cables to a rusty car battery.
The themes are plentiful, it covers love and life and distance, it takes on sport and theatre and politics. It’s like Kluger opened his chest, ripped out a rib and crafted these characters from a part of his own being, and to read it was truly spectacular (again, I’m not a crier, it was just a lot of awesome in one small book). The format was interesting too, it wasn’t just written in prose, it was court transcripts and diary entries and notes and emails. It had the peripheral characters bringing up the rear to drive the story towards the 20 year reunion the audience was rooting for, and from first to last page, it was all heart.
Written in 2004, and published by HarperCollins, this book is a must read for anyone who wants to take the beautiful, painful and wonderful trip down memory lane, and back to the door of their first love. It comes highly recommended by me, and as I sit here listening to a seven year old break up CD, I am truly inspired by everything I just read. I won’t be revealing the ending to you. That, you have to find out for yourselves. But I will tell you this. This book is pivotal reading, and me? I’m sitting here wondering what my first love thinks of me right now. Somewhere in time, Steve Kluger has me wondering if the one that got away will ever truly be gone. The resonance of this is never lost a true romantic.