Sunday, February 19, 2017

Juliet's Answer

Title:  Juliet's Answer: One Man's Search for Love and the Elusive Cure for Heartbreak
Author:  Glenn Dixon
Publication Information:  Gallery Books. 2017. 288 pages.
ISBN:  1501141856 / 1501141856

Book Source:  I received this book as a publisher's galley through NetGalley free of cost in exchange for an honest review.

Opening Sentence:  "Dear Juliet, I am no longer young, but there was a time, yes, there was a time when I believed in love."

Favorite Quote:  "I think you need to know yourself first before you can fall in real love - and before someone can fall in love with you. It's like once you are in love with yourself, then others can follow your example."

I look at this as two separate books. One is a personal journey. The other is a history of a place. The personal journey is a self-indulgent and self-serving one. The history and the myth surrounding Juliet is what makes and saves this book.

Glenn Dixon was a high school English teacher whose curriculum included Romeo and Juliet. He was also a man in love. He loved a woman for years and years, and the love was unrequited. In the language of today, for the longest time, he was "friend zoned." Yet, his love persevered on the hope that one day it would be reciprocated. In the course of his teaching, he discovered that in Verona, Italy lies Casa di Giuletta, Juliet's house. He also learned that tens of thousands of letters come to Juliet, and a group of "secretaries of Juliet" answer the letters.

In his own search, he sets off one summer to be a secretary of Juliet. In answering the letters, he searches for his own answers. He returns home to resume teaching and to his own love story. Circumstances and the resolution of his own story send him right back to Verona.

The issue with his story is that the focus of the story is entirely him. He meets some fascinating people in Verona, in particular the other secretaries of Juliet. These individuals sound as if they have stories to tell, but those are not explored. If the objective in traveling to Juliet's house is to seek answers, might those answers not be found in the people you meet? That too is left unexplored.

The memoir also appears to depict one of his high school classes, but, again, the focus is on his caring and his ability to motivate high schoolers into an interest in Shakespeare. The stories of the students read like stereotypes - the studious quiet girl, the athlete too cool for English, the perhaps-not-as-academic football players, and the young woman with family issues. As the author's note states, "The students in these pages are composites drawn from the thousands of students I taught over the decades." Unfortunately, the composites render uncomplimentary stereotypes and discredit the attempt to make that connection between student and teacher personal.

My reaction to the personal story is summed up in the book itself. "Sometimes you really want to tell these people to get it together, to smarten up - but of course you can't say that."

What saves this book for me is the history of Casa di Giuletta. Romeo and Juliet was a fictional play. Right? Or was it? A legend in Verona says that the story may have been real. It really does not matter, because it is an idea that appeals to many and has turned into somewhat of a major Verona tourist draw. The house itself dates back to the thirteenth century, and a coat of arm carved into the walls indicates that it belonged to the Cappelletti family. A statue of Juliet stands in the courtyard; it is worn away by people rubbing it for good luck and good love. A balcony, Juliet's balcony, has been added to the house. A mailbox stands ready to receive the letters to Juliet as it has since the 1930s. The Juliet Club is an actual group of volunteers who answers each and every one of the letters to Juliet. What a sweet way of spreading positive vibes and love through the world.

So, while the personal story of this book was not for me, it does make me want to visit Verona and the Casa di Giuletta and perhaps write my very own letter to Juliet or maybe one day share the experience of being a secretary of Juliet.

Please share your thoughts and leave a comment. I would love to "talk" to you.

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