'I Think I Love You,' David Cassidy
'I Think I Love You,' David Cassidy
Heard On 'Weekend Edition Sunday'
Anyone who has read Allison Pearson's comic novel about middle-class working mothers called I Don't Know How She Does It remembers the opening scene: It takes place in a kitchen in the dead of the night. An exhausted 30-something mom is busy "distressing" a batch of mincemeat pies she'd picked up earlier at a supermarket, after her child sandbagged her with the news that they were scheduled to bring a "snack" to school the next day. The mom desperately wants the pies to look homemade because otherwise the nutrition-obsessed clique of stay-at-home-moms at her child's school will say nasty things about her mothering skills.
That scene was so dead-on in its depiction of the screwball anxieties fueling the mommy wars that it instantly signaled that Pearson's first novel was going to be a winner. Her latest novel, I Think I Love You, takes more time gathering force. For one thing, the subject is a bit squirmy. Much of the first half of I Think I Love You excavates the agonies of a 13-year-old girl living in Wales in 1974 who, along with her friends, is absolutely smitten with pretty boy David Cassidy (he of The Partridge Family fame).
Pearson's debut was a comedy with sociological heft, but a novel about tween girls' dreamy fixations on a pop progenitor of Justin Bieber seems like a novelty tune; the B side of a chart-busting 45 single, as we would have said back in the day. But, as the novel gets under way, Pearson pulls off something extraordinary: She gives the subject of girl cliques and the intensity of the love they lavish on their idols its full due. For any middle-aged woman out there (and there must be hundreds of thousands of us) who long ago cried herself to sleep because Bobby Sherman or Donny Osmond or Davy Jones of The Monkees was sooo cute and sooo out of reach, I Think I Love You is both an anguished trip back to the mad possessiveness of puppy love and a respectful acknowledgment that it mattered. As our heroine, Petra Williams, says, looking back on her younger, David Cassidy-besotted self: "Yes, it was a kind of madness. It didn't last all that long, not in the great scheme of a life, but while I loved him he was the world entire."
In 1974, Petra is a skinny, serious, dark-haired girl who frantically paddles around the outer edges of a clique. Petra and her sometime best friend, Sharon, enter the Ultimate David Cassidy Quiz sponsored by one of the many fan magazines they read with the brow-furrowing intensity of rabbinical students scrutinizing the Torah. If they win, they'll actually get to fly to California and meet David. But while they're dreaming big dreams, the next best thing happens. David is coming to London to a venue called The White City to play what will be one of his last concerts. The clique decides to go, which in Petra's case means deceiving her strict mother. Here's Petra offering a somber reflection on the coercive power of cliques:
"You chose the kind of friends you wanted because you hoped you could be like them and not you. To improve your image, you made yourself more stupid and less kind. As the months passed, the trade-off for belonging started to feel too great. The shutting down of some vital part of yourself, just so you [would] ... not have to sit on your own at lunch. ... Now among friends, you were often lonelier than you had been before."
I Think I Love You
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Excerpt: 'I Think I Love You'
I Think I Love You
By Allison Pearson
Hardcover, 336 pages
List Price: $24.95
His favorite color was brown. Brown was such a sophisticated color, a quiet and modest sort of color. Not like purple, which was Donny's favorite. I wouldn't be seen dead in purple. Or in a Donny cap. How much would you have to like a boy before you went out wearing a stupid purple peaked cap?
Honest, it's amazing the things you can know about someone you don't know. I knew the date of his birth—April 12, 1950. He was a typical Aries, but without the Arian's stubbornness. I knew his height and his weight and his favorite drink, 7Up. I knew the names of his parents and his stepmother, the Broadway musical star. I knew all about his love of horses, which made perfect sense to me because when you're that famous it must be comforting to be around someone who doesn't know or care what famous is. I knew the instrument he learned to play when he was lonely. Drums. I knew the name of the dog he left behind when he had to move away from New Jersey. I knew that when he was a boy he was small for his age and he had a squint and had to wear an eye patch and corrective glasses, which must have been hard. Harder than for a girl even. I didn't wear my glasses if I could help it. Only in class for the blackboard, though I couldn't see well without them and it got me into trouble a few times when I smiled in the street at total strangers I mistook for members of my family. A few years later, when I got contact lenses, I was stunned by the trees. They had leaves, millions of leaves, with edges so sharp and defined they looked like God had made each one with a pastry cutter.
Basically, before I was sixteen, the world was one big Impressionist painting, unless I screwed up my eyes really tight to bring it into focus. Some things, as I would discover, were best left a blur.
Back then, I wasn't interested in the real world. Not really. I answered my parents' questions, I gave the appearance of doing homework, I lugged my cello into school on my back, I went downtown on Saturday afternoons with girls who sometimes felt like friends and sometimes didn't, but I was living for Him. Each night, I spread my long dark hair out on the pillow and made sure to sleep on my back so my face was ready to receive a kiss in case he came in the night. It wasn't that likely, obviously, because I lived in South Wales and he lived in California, which was five thousand miles away, and he didn't even have my address, although I had once sent a poem for him to a magazine. Choosing the right color paper took longer than writing the actual poem. I settled on yellow, because it seemed more mature than pink. I thought all the other girls would choose pink and part of loving him was finding better ways to please him so he would know how much more I cared. They didn't sell brown writing paper or I would have used brown, because that was his favorite color. Sometime later—three weeks and four days if you're counting, and I definitely was—a reply came in the post. It was seventeen words long, including my name. It didn't matter that the letter said they were sorry they couldn't publish my poem. In some crucial way, I felt as though I had made contact with him at long last. Someone important in London, someone who had been in the same room as him, had touched the yellow paper I had touched and then typed my name on an envelope and licked the stamp. No rejection slip has ever been more treasured. It took pride of place in my scrapbook.
I knew exactly where he lived in California. In a canyon. A canyon was like one of our valleys, only much bigger. We said much bigger. David said way. Way bigger. Way was American for much. America was so big that Americans would drive one hundred miles just to have dinner with someone and they didn't think that was a long way to go. In America, way to go means you've done something well. Way to go, baby! And they have gas instead of petrol.
Other words I had learned were cool, mad and bathroom. You have to be careful because a bathroom is not a bathroom in America, it's a toilet.
"The Americans are a most polite people who are not standing for vulgarity," said my mother, who was German and beautiful and disapproved of many things. You might say that my mother's whole life was a battle to keep the vulgar and the ugly at bay. In our town, she had found the perfect enemy. I just liked knowing American words because they brought me closer to Him. When we met, it would be important to retain my individuality, which was one of the top things David looked for in a girl.
In every interview I had read, David said that he preferred a girl to just be herself. But to be honest with you, I was unsure of who myself was, or even if I had one, although I still maintained a touching faith that this unknown and as yet undiscovered me would be deeply appealing to David when we eventually met. How could I be sure? The understanding in his eyes told me so. (Oh, those eyes. They were deep green pools you could pour all your longing into.) Still, I reckoned that meeting David would be awkward enough without any unnecessary confusion, so I did my best to pick up American. It would be tricky to go to a bathroom in his house in Los Angeles, for example, and find there was no bath, wouldn't it? Or imagine saying someone was mad. David would think that I meant they were angry. Crazy means mad in America. Back then, I couldn't imagine David ever being angry, he was so gentle and sensitive. Sorry, do I sound mad?
Excerpted from I Think I Love You by Allison Pearson. Copyright 2011 by Allison Pearson. Excerpted by permission of Knopf, a division of Random House Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Correction Feb. 22, 2011
The audio and a previous Web version of this story incorrectly referred to a character " 'distressing' a cake." It was actually mincemeat pies.