RIP, Erich Segal and Robert B. Parker
The drama in Massachusetts at the moment is all about the Senate race, but it's an unhappy day for Boston popular fiction as well: Erich Segal, the creator of Oliver Barrett IV and Jennifer Cavilleri, and Robert B. Parker, the creator of Spenser, have both died.
I think of Jenny Cavilleri every time I drive past Cranston, R.I., on I-95, even though she never really lived there -- even though she never really lived. A little farther north, whole swaths of Boston and Cambridge are inhabited, if only in imagination, by Oliver and Jenny, Spenser and Susan.
In my 20s, when I was especially fond of detective novels and happened to be living in Massachusetts, I dipped into the Spenser books. As a teenager, I read and reread Segal's "Love Story." But, just as it was the TV series that introduced me to Spenser (Trinity Church, consequently, has faint echoes of the private eye for me), it was the movie "Love Story," also written by Segal, that led me to the novel.
One night in the '80s, I was babysitting for a family I barely knew when "Love Story" came on the TV. I'd already put the kids to bed, so I watched it, and by the end I was a sodden, tear-stained mess. Right after the credits rolled, the parents walked in the door. I remember the alarm in their faces as they looked at me, assuming some disaster had befallen their children. Still sniffling, I explained about Jenny's demise. The mom got it immediately.