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As fate would have it
When you pick up Beginner's Greek, you think you're just picking up a romance. You're actually destined for much more.
By Jennifer DeCamp, Times Staff Writer
Published February 10, 2008
Six years ago John Cusack and Kate Beckinsale starred in Serendipity, a mostly forgettable romantic film that questions fate's hand in lessons of love.
The pair first exchange goo-goo eyes over a pair of gloves.
Eventually, she writes her name and phone number inside a book at a secondhand store; he gives her his digits on a $5 bill.
Fate intervenes - their connections to each other lost. Years pass, they meet again, and each is engaged to marry someone else.
Which brings us to Peter and Holly, author James Collins' star-crossed couple who have their own serendipitous meeting in the novel Beginner's Greek.
The reader meets Peter, he of conscientious intentions and a surprising masculine romanticism, on a cross-country plane trip. With eager anticipation he awaits the arrival of his seatmate. His mind whirls, his heart full of hope that this time he will meet "the One" and that they, victims of love at first sight, will live a fairy tale existence.
Fate nearly grants Peter's wish.
Her name is Holly, she of blond hair and sharp intelligence. When she smiles, "the effect was like seeing the sun over the ocean at midmorning, a tremendous blast of light."
They make goo-goo eyes at each other by the luggage carousel. She writes her name and phone number on the title page of Thomas Mann's The Magic Mountain and tears the page out of the book.
Peter loses the page.
A decade passes; Peter's wedding nears. He knows he doesn't love Charlotte his intended, she of unique looks and a good heart, but their union has a practical nature.
Yes, Peter still loves Holly.
But she's married.
To Peter's best friend.
A coincidence? Maybe.
Interesting plot twist? One of many.
With each page turned, the number of fantastic coincidences multiplies in Collins' literary debut.
Death stills one heartbeat by means of a lightning bolt on a golf course, a demise so cliched and untimely that it's rather funny. An unexpected pregnancy leads to enlightened self-evaluation. What's lost is found again in a rather heavenly manner.
Lives crossing paths in unexpected ways, exclamatory statements and ardently soulful affirmations fill the pages of Beginner's Greek.
Like this about Holly:
"When she left Peter at the baggage claim carousel, she was thinking about Fate, and how eons before it had been determined that Peter and she were to be mates and so were brought together in a manner that seemed completely random - seat assignments - but was in fact part of a sequence set at the dawn of time."
Chick lit devotees will be drawn in by the idea of love's missed opportunities and Collins' flowery prose:
"The reason (Peter) accepted his lack of passionate love for Charlotte was not that he did not feel love strongly but rather that he felt love much too strongly. He was capable of being deeply, passionately, heartbreakingly, searingly in love with someone . . . That person just didn't happen to be Charlotte."
J.J. Abrams and Kevin Bacon fans will enjoy Collins' playful spin on the idea of six degrees of separation.
Even cynical readers who may scoff at Collins' idyllic tale should be able to peel back the layers of plot to discover a lushly written romantic satire at the novel's heart, the wistful dedication to love at first sight only on the surface.
And it's merely the idea of this satiric undercurrent that ultimately saves the book from the abundant euphoria that spills from the pages and wraps the reader in a bubbly, happy glow.
Real life - even sappy literary life - is never this perfect, with so many plot twists so neatly tied up with gilded bows.