06/02/2007

Love in the Present Tense (by Catherine Ryan Hyde)

'Love in the Present Tense' is an interesting modern novel by Catherine Ryan Hyde.

Leonard is a remarkable child even at five years old when the main part of the story starts. His mother Pearl, who had him when she was only thirteen, is pretty amazing too. Street-wise, almost obsessively clean and tidy, and an intuitively good mother despite her extreme youth.

The novel opens as Pearl, seven years old, watches someone dying outside her house. Then moves us forward to the night when Leonard is conceived, when she herself commits murder.
Then we meet Mitch. It took me awhile to get into the style of the novel, which is told in short chapters by three different people: Pearl, Leonard, and Mitch, who is their next-door neighbour. He relates the first time he meets Leonard, seeing a small but very intelligent child
with thick glasses and an asthma inhaler. He becomes his child-minder when Pearl has to work. Mitch is straightforward and basically honest - other than being deep in a secret affair with a
married woman - and I liked him immediately. He recognises something of a kindred spirit in Leonard, and Pearl instinctively trusts him.

Pearl vanishes and Leonard is convinced she's dead. Mitch is never quite certain, though, and I did wonder - once or twice - whether she would suddenly appear from jail (she did, after all, murder someone) or a kidnapping. But Leonard is perfectly content to stay with Mitch, and then to live with some foster parents for a while.

The novel is very well put together, with a tidy conclusion, and by the time I was about half-way through it was difficult to put down. It's a book that I'll probably think about off and on during the next few weeks, because Leonard and Mitch have undoubtedly got under my
skin.

My somewhat longer review of 'Love in the Present Tense' is here at The Bookbag.

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