Shopping for books one day, I was drawn to the title, Love May Fail (by Matthew Quick), the idea that love, the deepest, most profound emotion that one can feel or offer, may still fail. But the word “may” is what my intrigue hinges upon, it is what makes this phrase beautiful, because it means love could just as easily triumph. After all, it is this lack of surety that makes love so prized when won and so devastating when lost. The phrase also prompts a “but” to follow, perhaps out of the human need for a hopeful resolution, but it indeed exists in the original maxim it was plucked from; “Love may fail, but courtesy will prevail.” Though a meager offering of comfort, it is comfort nonetheless, that even when the most powerful force falls short, there is still something that might hold the pieces together.
I was drawn to it because I thought it spoke directly to the disappointment I was wading through, in search of a lighthouse that would shed light on it all. I was confused because I felt like I did my best in all arenas of my life but none of them reciprocated my efforts. Where I gave love I found rejection, where I gave fuel I found a dead end. My mind at that point spouted a constant stream of why? Where? When? I felt like a walking question mark. So when I saw this book, I wanted to know: What happens when love fails?
Maybe I was blindly projecting, but as I read the novel, I felt like I was experiencing uncannily similar events and emotions to the characters—the loss, the flailing, the search for a spark. And as a result, I got to live vicariously through the aftermath, to get a peek of what’s down the road for me and, spoiler alert, it’s not all rainbows and unicorns. The characters, spurred on by a sudden burst of courage to “turn things around” run about making drastic changes, seeking once-feared challenges, accepting new love, and their steely determination is quickly battered by the realization that the world does not change just because you suddenly decide to.
Yet there is a strand of hope that runs through every deflated dream with which the characters and readers use to climb back up. It is a hope almost sentient in its ability to coax the demoralized characters into believing again by taking the form of unanticipated blessings or distant corollaries gently whispering: Just because something didn’t happen the way you envisioned doesn’t mean it wasn’t worth doing.
The novel was proof to me, an accustomed cynic, that one can be a realist without being a pessimist. Paraphrasing one of the main characters’ words repeated throughout the novel: we are guaranteed failure and sorrow just as we are entitled to hope and happiness, and just as you don’t get to control when it fails, you won’t get to dictate its victory, for better or for worse.