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I recently heard a fascinating interview on NPR’s “Fresh Air with Terry Gross” program with author Scott Spencer. He spoke candidly and thoughtfully about his latest book A Man in the Woods which focuses on a man on a hunting trip who accidentally kills another man. Aside from one of Gross’s personal idiosyncrasies (her penchant to utter dryly ‘that’s funny’ rather than simply chuckling when she finds something humorous) there was something else that I couldn’t ignore. Most of Spencer’s books explore protagonists who commit an act that is irretrievable, an act that cannot be undone, and thus many a Spencer novel unfolds with how the protagonist deals with said act. Not to say the crux of every Spencer novel follows this plot arc precisely, but it’s clear this facet of human nature/society fascinates him.
Endless Love is no different. The novel begins with an act by lovelorn teen David Axelrod that will shape and define-at the very least- his immediate life, if not adulthood. The act? He burns down his girlfriend’s house (I’m sorry but this isn’t a spoiler unless you fail to reach page 10). While this is certainly impulsive it should in no way reflect his feelings toward his belle Jade. He is madly in love with Jade, obsessively so. Clinically so. While it’s hard to ignore obvious symbolism between the flames that engulfed Jade’s family’s home and the ardent passion in David’s heart, this is no fairy tale. Much of his journey thereafter is ruinous, replete with self-sabotage and untimely deaths. Some of it is redemptive and some I found extremely farfetched. Case in point is the very nature and personality of our protagonist. Perhaps it is more a testament of the writing style and prowess of Spencer, but David Axelrod is written with a hyper-aware, knowing, calculating internal dialogue. Even when drunk and being seduced by an older woman, David is in the moment, reflexive, and too sensible to give in to temptation. Which ultimately, for me, is hard to jibe with the impulsive acts upon acts he commits. Perhaps upon further reflection, it’s all too clear that these internal personality reconciliations, the wrestling of the id and the ego, demonstrate just how lovesick, obsessed, and fragile David really is.