Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Love in the Present Tense

Can a book whose plot includes murder, prostitutes, desperate poverty, sexual harassment, infidelity, drug abuse, ruthless politicians, corrupt policemen, and a near-death experience be described as sweetly sentimental? Well, at least in the case of Love in the Present Tense, the answer is a definite yes.

Barely qualifying as a teenager, but streetwise as they come, Pearl suddenly finds herself pregnant and on the run because she has accidentally shot to death the baby’s father, who just happens to be a police officer. Pearl, whose own mother is a self-destructive addict, is determined that her baby will be given the unconditional love that she herself has never experienced. And that is exactly the kind of love that Leonard, who suffers from a degenerative eye disease due to his premature birth, receives from Pearl.

By the time Leonard is five years old he and Pearl are renting a room in a small California beach community and the little mixed-race boy has blossomed into the kind of kid that everyone has to love. At times displaying wisdom well beyond his years, he more often seems to be an almost dangerously trusting and forgiving little boy. The term “sweet natured” could have been invented just for him, in fact.

That is why Mitch, who runs a business from his home next door to the one Pearl is renting, so readily offers to let Leonard stay with him during the day while Pearl is at work. Impressed that Pearl assures herself that he is the kind of man who can be trusted around little boys before she agrees to accept his much-needed help, Mitch expects things to go just fine for him and Leonard. And they do – until Pearl doesn’t come to pick up Leonard one day after work and seems to have disappeared forever. Mitch effectively becomes the father that Leonard never knew but Leonard still very much believes in “forever love,” a theory taught him by his mother, and never loses the feeling that Pearl is still around to protect and love him.

Love in the Present Tense is, at heart, the story of the deeply loving relationship that develops between Mitch and Leonard, two guys who manage to cobble together a little family of their own. That’s the “sweetly sentimental” part of the story. But there is much more to their story than that because neither of them is as perfect as they may sound. Leonard grows into a teenager who, because he believes himself destined to die young, has a dangerously self-destructive outlook on life. Mitch shows his own darker side by for more than a decade relishing an affair with the wife of his major client, a man who has treated him almost like a member of the family, even at one point hoping that his daughter and Mitch would become a couple.

Catherine Ryan Hyde tells her story using three distinctive first person narratives: Pearl, Leonard and Mitch. The audio version of the book is nicely read by three separate voices, each ably contributing to the personality of one of the book’s main characters.

Rated at: 3.5


  1. How do you find so much time to read? I'm incredibly envious!

  2. I suppose that the short answer is ZERO television. :-)

  3. I know my television watching has reduced to almost nil since I started reading your blog, Sam! This looks like another one to add to my "To Read" list! Thanks!! --Jen

  4. You know, forby, now that I've broken the TV habit, it seems almost as difficult to force myself to sit down long enough to watch something as it was to quit watching int he first place. I can go weeks without watching television and only realize it's happened if someone asks if I've seen something they liked.

  5. So you're not buying that description, Carrie? :-)

  6. A life without television sounds good to me...but not during the NBA playoffs.

  7. dreamqueen, I'm a fan of AM radio and listen to my sports on radio...even lots of things like "Meet the Press" on radio. I can get so much more done by using the radio for things like that rather than watching it on television that it's become a habit to turn to radio first.