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[599] Almost Like Being in Love – Steve Kluger

love

” If I have to call every one of them, I’ll find him. Okay, maybe he doesn’t need a psychopathic history professor showing up from the Twilight Zone, and maybe he won’t even like me any more. But he still has my heart—and if he’s not using it, I want it back. Otherwise I’m going to go on loving him for the rest of my life. ” (Ch.6, Travis, 150)

Charming, engrossing, funny, and original (I usually don’t attach so many adjectives to a book), Almost Like Being in Love is a book about first love, true love, and love in general. Craig McKenna is a high-school jock, the future alpha-male. Travis Puckett is the nerd who hitch-hikes 300 miles for a musical album. The nerd has resisted speaking to the jock because he’s afraid (when he does he squeaks). Finally, in 1978, during their senior year, they become fast friends. It isn’t long that they are completely, hopelessly in love with each other. After a very memorable summer in New York, they are off to attend their respective colleges—and slowly drift apart.

Maybe he just wants to catch up on the old days. Maybe he’s in a jam and he needs my help. Maybe I’m full of shit and know it. There can only be one reason he’s tracking me down after twenty years: he wants to find Brigdoon again. But this time for keeps.
I’m in big trouble.

Fast forward twenty years. Travis is a history professor at USC who has no luck in relationship. The neurotic, obsessive-compulsive musical and baseball freak takes love advice from his students by insidiously working questions in their American History test papers. On a very extravagant date Travis has an epiphany that he is still in love with Craig—and he decides to put his whole life on hold, including a $30K research grant, and starts out on a coast-to-coast hunt for the boyfriend.

Being Travis was a full-time job, yet that never kept him from teaching me how to be Craig.

So the book is primarily about Travis and his trip to look for Craig, who is an attorney with activist inclinations and a soft spot for runaway kids. Travis’s biggest obstacle, beside breaking into Craig’s mother’s office to pillage the Rolodex, is that Craig is in a long-term relationship with Clayton. The trip is full of embarrassment on Travis’s behalf, as he blunders his way through the road. The commendable hook of Almost Like Being in Love is the epistolary form, told via school assignments, checklists, emails, menus, journal entries, transcripts, and narratives, which allow the story and the characters to keep up their antics without overwhelming the reader with their constant clever, hilarious dialogue.

I am personally in love with Travis who, despite his quirky and unbelievable action, strikes me as someone who is real. Craig is also a perfect counterpoint with his activism and virtue. Throughout the book one can see Travis’s lasting influence on Craig. Even Craig’s relationship with Clayton is well-drawn and touching, making me wonder how this love triangle will turn out. long with all the humor, wit, and clever innuendo, the story is at heart a romance and an ode to first love.

354 pp. Perennial Paper. [Read|Skim|Toss] [Buy|Borrow]

Unearthed

kluger

Shoved to the back of the bottom shelf, forgotten, but recently unearthed, is a copy of Almost Like Being in Love by Steve Kluger, an epistolary novel of two unlikely lovers. They were high school buddies but even back then they weren’t speaking to each other. Travis, the nerd and musical fiend who hitchhiked three hundred miles to buy a rare album, would not speak a word to alpha-jock Craig McKenna because he was afraid. This book is cute, and laugh-out-loud funny. Told in narrative, letters, checklists and other forms of correspondence, the book is just timely for the weekend. I cannot wait to find out how the first love will reunite after twenty years. The receipt reveals that I made this purchase in 2006 at Borders, which no longer exists!