Not long after Louise Kirk's mother vanishes, the Richters and their adopted son, Abel, move in across the street, and Louise falls furiously in love. Skillfully interweaving the stories of Abel and Louise at different ages, The Romantic is a powerful exploration of the many incarnations of love and loss.
In her previous novels (The White Bone; Mr. Sandman; etc), Gowdy's imagination blazed new trails, melding bizarre characters into memorable situations. This novel is as beautifully written as its predecessors, but more traditional than the Canadian writer's usual fiction. She examines the mysteries of love and its absence in two damaged children whose adult lives remain shadowed by their early experiences. In the early 1960s in Toronto, when she is 10, narrator Louise Kirk falls in love with a new neighbor boy named Abelard, the adopted son of the Richter family. Louise's mother, a former beauty queen who said things like, "Nobody would believe you're my daughter," abandoned Louise and her passive father a year ago, and Louise prays that the Richters will adopt her, too. Louise has oceans of love to lavish and focuses all her psychic and emotional energy on Abel, who can't bear the weight of it because he is more fragile than she is. She remains obsessed with Abel even after his family moves away, and on the night he briefly reappears, when she is in high school, she conceives his child. But the curious, tender boy she knew has become an alcoholic, taking refuge in Rimbaud and determined to end his life. The narrative moves back and forth in time, spinning out the story of the doomed relationship. Each of the characters, even minor ones, has a unique voice and a vivid, quirky personality. Louise's need to have Abel create the world for her resonates with unfulfilled passion. In reining in her imagination to the limits of a conventional love story, Gowdy has produced her most haunting and sensitive novel to date. Author tour.