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Love in the Present Tenseby Catherine Ryan Hyde
Synopses & Reviews
“So much of how it was started was when that cop got out and came up to me. But I didn’t know all this when it first happened. I guess you never do. I didn’t know there would ever be a Leonard, or that this man would be his father, or that anybody would have to die. I didn’t know where all this would take me at the time….”
For five years Pearl has managed to keep the past from catching up to her and her bright, frail five-year-old son. Life has given her every reason to mistrust people, but circumstances force her to trust her neighbor, Mitch, with watching Leonard while she goes to work. Then one day Pearl drops her son off—and never returns.
Pearl, Mitch, and Leonard each have a story to tell. As their lives unfold, profound questions emerge about the nature of love and family. Is it possible to love the people who can’t always be there for us? The answers will surprise and move you. But this extraordinary novel’s richest reward is watching Mitch and Leonard grow up together, through the power and the magic of the human heart.
"The author of the entirely commendable 'Pay It Forward' has given us another pretty literary fable. 'Love in the Present Tense' is about, yes, love, and how long — and under what circumstances — it continues. As with any novel, this one will have its supporters and its detractors, and that will have to do with (a) what kind of prose style you prefer, be it mush or al dente, and (b) how much you... Washington Post Book Review (read the entire Washington Post review) believe in the concept of love. God knows, enough has been written about love in all its mysteries and permutations, but maybe love is like sermons on a Sunday: You can never really be sure you've heard and read enough about the subject. So Hyde just gives it another shot here. The place: a central California coastal town, perched on a cliff high above the Pacific, lined with dangerous rocks and heavy waves. Inland lies a plethora of tortuous mountain roads, gorges and canyons — perfect places to hide a body. In between these ominous works of nature is a middle-sized community with neighborhoods both good and bad, inhabited by a population that's white, black and mixed. One of the citizens is a woman of African-American and Korean descent called Pearl (note the name's freighted irony), who, at the beginning of this narrative, was raped on her 13th birthday by a white cop down in Los Angeles. In the ensuing fracas, Pearl shot her rapist dead and fled. Telling her story now, she remembers: 'Speaking of dignity, it is dignity when you own what you did. Not pretend. So, I shot that man. Just like they think I did. I will say that now. I shot that man between the eyes, in Rosalita's kitchen, where he stood with no pants on. Killed him with his own gun.' Flash forward six years to that town on the central coast. A 25-year-old computer whiz, Mitch, is standing in the middle of the street, trying to flag down a FedEx truck, when Leonard, a little kid wearing Coke bottle glasses — the product of Pearl's brutal rape by the long-dead policeman — yoo-hoos down at him from a second-story window. The kid's mom is out cleaning houses, and the woman who's supposed to be watching him is sound asleep. The next thing you know, Leonard has become more or less a permanent fixture in Mitch's life, spending long hours at the office or just hanging out. Here's some back story. In L.A., Pearl had managed to elude the long arm of the law until Leonard was 4 years old, when, by the merest chance, the partner of the rapist cop she killed drove by and recognized her. That's when she and her son escaped to this town. As it turns out, Mitch has his own drama: For some time now, he's been having an affair with an older woman, 42, who happens to be the mayor's wife. The mayor trusts Mitch implicitly, thinks of him as a son and is also Mitch's biggest client. No good can come of any of this, of course. Then Pearl disappears. It's more than possible that the dead cop's partner has finally caught up with her. Leonard is left with little more than idealized memories of his own fourth birthday, spent on Santa Monica Pier with his young, beautiful mom. (Note to author: The pier doesn't connect to Pacific Coast Highway; it goes over PCH by bridge to Ocean Avenue.) But even though she's gone, Leonard knows his mother is always with him. 'Pearl taught me,' he explains to Mitch. 'It's when you love somebody so much that no matter what happens that'll never change. Like even if you're gone. It's still the same. Even if you die. You die, but not the love. Not forever love. Know what I mean?' Mitch does get it, in a dim sort of way, but he's still tangled up in his destructive affair with that older woman. And soon enough Leonard is adopted by a well-meaning couple who attempt to give him a good home. Still, Leonard and Mitch remain close. Flash forward again. Leonard is approaching his 18th birthday. He has had a giant tattoo of a cross put on his back and is busy fashioning a homemade hang glider to fly off the town cliff. (Remember those Coke bottle glasses? For a long time — until Mitch paid to have his eyes operated on — Leonard was almost blind, but he could always 'see' the important things.) Now, as a combination of Icarus and Jesus, the boy is preparing to sacrifice himself — for the misdeeds of those around him and to see if he can be united with his beloved Pearl. It's hard to say a mean thing about a book like this. It's all about love, and who's going to say a mean thing about love? Still, the primer prose here, as well as the preachy tone, might make some readers yearn to light up an unfiltered cigarette, ingest an ungarnished pound of bacon grease, find a dog and kick it, then visit a brothel in a low part of town. But some people will take to this story with guileless enthusiasm for the same reasons that others will dislike it. The simplicity of prose might indicate nothing more than purity of heart, and the talk about 'forever love' might be nothing more than a deeply felt reaffirmation of love that lasts forever. (It's only the mean kids in the back row of the class who are snickering.) What you feel about 'Love in the Present Tense,' then, will depend entirely on who you are. Don't be so quick to dismiss this. Love can sucker-punch anybody, anytime." Reviewed by Carolyn See, who may be reached at www.carolynsee.com, Washington Post Book World (Copyright 2006 Washington Post Book World Service/Washington Post Writers Group)
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"The simplicity of prose might indicate nothing more than purity of heart....What you feel about Love in the Present Tense...will depend entirely on who you are. Don't be so quick to dismiss this. Love can sucker-punch anybody, anytime." Washington Post
"The author of Pay It Forward proves she has some staying power with this sad-funny love triangle of neighbors and caregivers who alternately tell their story over the course of 25 years....Sparked with humanity and a lively vernacular." Kirkus Reviews
"Hyde tells a rich and engaging story through the voices of three extraordinary people." Booklist
"The story dishes out plenty of sentiment about loyalty, faith and family. If you love Pay It Forward, The Notebook and The Five People You'll Meet in Heaven, this novel will envelop you like a fuzzy blanket." USA Today
For five years Pearl has managed to keep the past from catching up to her and her bright, frail five-year-old son. Life has given her every reason to mistrust people, but circumstances force her to trust her neighbor Mitch with watching Leonard while she goes off to work. Then one day Pearl drops her son off…and never returns.
They are an unlikely pair: Mitch is a young, unattached business owner, and Leonard is a precocious, five-year-old boy. But together they must find a way to move forward in the wake of Pearls unexplained disappearance. Their bond as parent and child shifts and endures, even as Mitch must eventually surrender Leonard to a two-parent home.
Is it possible to love the people who cant always be there for us? The answers will surprise and move you. As their lives unfold, profound questions emerge about the nature of love and family. Ultimately, this novels richest reward is watching Mitch and Leonard grow up together, through the power and the magic of the human heart.
About the Author
Catherine Ryan Hyde, an acclaimed novelist and award-winning short-story writer, is the author of the story collection Earthquake Weather and of the novels Funerals for Horses, Electric God, and Pay It Forward, which was named an ALA Book of the Year and made into a feature film. She lives in Cambia, California.
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