Books

Book 605: Almost Like Being in Love – Steve Kluger

I knew Tim didn’t read this blog, but I didn’t realize how little he paid attention to what I read. He recommended this after I basically forced him to read Check, Please! (#Hockey! #1) and the whole time I was reading this he was worried I would think it was too corny. And I kept telling him, PLEASE, you don’t even know how much I love this shit.

Almost Like Being in Love is the story of Travis and Craig told in a modern epistolary format, including internal memos, diaries, research requests, and eventually emails. From their budding love as seniors at a boarding school to 20 years later when Travis seeks Craig out after they grew apart when they went to separate colleges on opposite coasts in the US.

Travis’ character is hilarious. There are so many neuroses I couldn’t help but see myself in Travis. I’m definitely not as bad, but I can see where Kluger could easily have observed someone like myself and ratcheted up the crazy just a few clicks to end up with a character like Travis. He’s definitely OCD (lines up his french fries and shoe laces and color codes his foods) and he’s definitely awkward (the super intensity around musicals and the actors in them), but most of all he’s adork-able.

Craig’s character is a bit more straight-laced until he hits undergrad at Harvard (again–weird reading about a place you live in that actually is embodied and described REALLY well by an author). He takes what Travis says to heart when they’re in high school in that he has to have a conscience and he has to make a difference. He not only comes out in undergrad, but he becomes a rabble-rouser who advocates on behalf of the LGBT community and at some point chains himself (/gets chained) to the Harvard library.

“The corps of forty-five hundred cheering Harvard kids sardined into the cozy confines of the Yard represented nearly twice the turnout we’d expected (the prospect of free rock and roll inspires temporary idealism in many)–and by the time Buffalo Springfield had brought down the house with “For What It’s Worth,” word had spread to Kenmore Square, where two thousand future alumni from B.U. were jamming the “T” and heading to Cambridge as well. While Grid Tarbell and His Dunster Funsters were blasting John Mayall’s “Room to Move”into flinders, we were joined by another eight hundred from MIT. And the Boston College contingent showed up at the tail-end of my Dylan set–just in time to see me curl my lip into a sneer, twitch my ass, and direct “I Want You” to a well-muscled Travolta lookalike in the front row. (Subtlety, as ever, has rarely been a compulsory part of my act.” (87-88)

Fast forward 20 years and after a series of unsuccessful relationships Travis decided to seek out Craig. They haven’t spoken or heard anything from/about each other in the preceding years. Travis is a successful history professor and Craig is a successful lawyer and the local democratic party has sought him out to run for office. Craig and his long-term partner (10+ years), Clayton have been having issues, but they’ve continued to work on them.

I won’t go more into the story line, because spoilers, but it was a hilarious read. Where Kluger excelled was with his minor characters. Every one of them had depth and personality, creating a fuller more rewarding read. From Noah (Craig’s “client” who is maybe 10 years old at the start of the story) and Charleen (Craig’s best friend from undergrad he opens a law practice with, to Gordo (Travis’s roommate from boarding school and now roommate as an adult) and AJ (the random diner owner in St. Louis Travis meets on his unplanned trip), there are enough side stories to keep the main story moving forward and constantly refreshed.

Opening Line: “All-star quarterback and shortstop Craig McKenna has been awarded Beckley’s Victory Cup as the year’s most outstanding athlete, in the first unanimous vote since the Cup was instituted in 1943.”

Closing Line:“It was bound to happen sooner or later.” (Whited out to avoid spoilers, highlight to read.)

Recommendation: This book is hilarious, I legit found myself laughing and giggling constantly. It was a much-needed reprieve after reading the incredibly emotionally draining (but totally worth it) Spoiler Alert. It’s a little outdated, but only because it’s clearly put into the time frames of the late 70s and late 90s, so in that case it’s not outdated at all. And how could I NOT love a book that has both Wuthering Heights and Jane Austen references?

Additional Quotes from Almost Like Being in Love
3. Get yourself a study group and don’t include him. This was far effective. Two weeks of extra-credit reports, theoretical analysis pulled out of my ass as I went along, and other more traditional brown-nosing tactics all paid off when the Psych 101 professor named me the head of group 3. In addition to Charleen, I chose four other students–the one sitting in front of Clayton, the one sitting to the left of Clayton, the one sitting to the right of Clayton, and the one sitting behind Clayton. Now he was getting pissed.” (83)

“For the next three and a half years, I was Jack Kerouac without a Neal Cassady: I smoked pot, I watched my friends die, I hitchhiked to California, I hunted for Travis, I got drunk when I couldn’t find him, I went to law school, I got laid, I felt for swollen glands, I watched my friends die, I stayed away from the Harvard Center for Business Administration so I wouldn’t run into Clayton, I pretended I didn’t see him when I ran into him anyway, I passed the bar exam, I got laid some more, I searched for lesions, I got my blood tested, I grew up, and I watched my friends die. It was all quiet tragic and inevitably romantic.” (188)

The Library: The only thing that had changed was the animated young woman sitting behind the checkout desk, who was practically indistinguishable from her equally perky predecessor (leading me to wonder whether or not there isn’t a mail-order catalog somewhere that specializes in cheerful high school librarians). Encouraged by her benevolent–if exhausting–smile, I made my way back to the back room (“Poetry and Drama”) and found the two overstuffed leather chairs I’d been looking for. On rainy days Travis and I would sit here side-by-side, reading together–Auntie Mame (his choice) or In Cold Blood (mine.). This is where I said ‘I love you’ for the first time.” (279)

“When T falls in love, he does it with the whole world at once. Compared to him, Jane Austen was romantically challenged.” (294)

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