What Does Love Mean in Boyle’s “The Love of My Life”?

This summer, the New Yorker opened up its archives for a limited time period for free. As a result, I found myself reading some of the fiction pieces which have featured in the New Yorker over the years.

One of the stories featured in the New Yorker on March 6, 2000 caught my eye.

Written by T. C. Boyle, the story is titled “The Love of My Life.” It follows a young high school couple with a bright future- the boy is set to attend Brown, while the girl is at Binghamton. Over the summer before their freshman year as college students, they mistakenly conceive a child during a camping trip, even though both of them are keen to avoid pregnancy.

The girl decides to keep the child, but refuses to seek the medical attention necessary to take care of the offspring. In a shattering moment confirming the painful nature of attachment, and how difficult it would have become, had the two actually chosen to keep the child, China proceeds to tell her lover Jeremy to “get rid of it,” refusing to assign a gender to the child. By doing thus, she shows how there is no easy means of compensating for the objectification of the child.

The story provides a haunting narrative of the responsibilities of life and love. Even though it is titled, “The Love of My Life,” it is actually a dissertation on loss, losing, and the limitations of infatuation, as love does not prevent either China or Jeremy  from betraying the other, or committing the crime of infanticide.

In fact, the insistent declarations of love by both characters of their mutually shared love ceases when the child is brought into the picture. It is the first time they are both left without it:

And then the last thing he said to her, just as they were pulled apart, and it was nothing she wanted to hear, nothing that had any love in it, or even the hint of love: “You told me to get rid of it.”

kissing jesusThis realization of the dwindling sense of responsibility that Jeremy feels, where he balances that he cares for his lover, is further reduced to a feeling of absolute alienation from his beloved, made complete when China gives a sex identification to their child,  after both she and Jeremy are out on house arrest. This gender identification seems in a way the ultimate rejection of their shared history:

At first, she called him every day, but mostly what she did was cry—“I want to see it,” she sobbed. “I want to see our daughter’s grave.” That froze him inside. He tried to picture her—her now, China, the love of his life—and he couldn’t. What did she look like? What was her face like, her nose, her hair, her eyes and breasts and the slit between her legs? He drew a blank. There was no way to summon her the way she used to be or even the way she was in court, because all he could remember was the thing that had come out of her, four limbs and the equipment of a female, shoulders rigid and eyes shut tight, as if she were a mummy in a tomb . . . and the breath, the shuddering long gasping rattle of a breath he could feel ringing inside her even as the black plastic bag closed over her face and the lid of the Dumpster opened like a mouth.

The sense of loss espoused by the story, alongside the visceral details that become necessary as a means of understanding love, leave a haunting narrative of what the emotion actually means, particularly in this reader’s mind. I’m still unconvinced that the infatuation showcased by either of these authors can indeed be termed love. It’s both a worrisome and intense dialogue on how history is written, and rewritten, in light of new information and events that complicate the notion that love actually and truly exists.

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2 thoughts on “What Does Love Mean in Boyle’s “The Love of My Life”?

  1. I agree. This story was frighteningly good. Even if the message doesn’t suit you, the writing was amazing. His sense of imagery was beautiful.

    • Although you say “The girl decides to keep the child, but refuses to seek the medical attention necessary to take care of the offspring,” it seems to me that she is incapable of making any decision regarding her pregnancy as she refuses to acknowledge that she is pregnant.

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