The Fermentation Process of Mayonnaise .That would have been one of several other possible title versions for the young adult novel by Jennifer E. Smith. Its connection to the plot would have been only slightly less tangible than that of the ultimately chosen one. For both are simply examples of the fake summer research topics Yale University student Oliver wittily invents on the spot to impress the girl in the airplane seat next to his.
The big difference between the saucy title and the lovey-dovey one would not have been my lack of determination to have a go, since I had already enjoyed two of the author’s rather uniquely written books (The Comeback Season almost made it into my favorites list of 2011), which both are more of the problem-oriented sort and hesitatingly serve a bit of romance on the side. The big difference would have been the direction of my expectations and thus the depth of my disappointment.
It is true: After discussing the book and my personal reception of it with my friends over at the the Street Corner Bookers I am sure: The title – cute and original as it is - is to blame. For the title made me remember and desperately wish for a remake of an almost 40-years-old German young adult novel I have read and savored several times in spite of its ugly cover and its boring title: David und Dorothee.
The equally slim volume, which is narrated in switching first person points of view, shows two lonely teenagers on the verge of leaving their old lives behind stranded for a long night at Frankfurt Airport. The seventeen-years old girl has just missed her flight to Vancouver, where she will spend an exchange year. Her taxi has splashed a young guy whose mournful eyes remind her of the David in her illustrated childhood Bible at home. After silently passing him a few times on the escalators, she donates a pair of knitted socks to him. He is fifteen and still deciding if his plan to hike North and sign on as a helper on a cargo ship will really solve his problems. After some futile attempts to impress the older girl he relaxes into being just himself and into opening up to the complete stranger. We never learn his true name. But we learn both his and Dorothee's deepest secrets and fears, we observe them playing running games, trying out arcade games, inventing stories, singing, playing the guitar, dancing the Sirtaki with an old, Greek cleaner, eating nostalgic food, getting a little tender and silently counting the hours. When she boards the plane taking only the blue, floating ball from the arcade hall with her, which he spontaneously told her to keep as a reminder of the night, your heart aches. You so wish until the last minute for one of them handing over an address slip or a promise. Both of them hesitate but decide for themselves it would destroy the perfect night's magic. So you feverishly calculate how probable it is for them to maybe find each other again a year later.
When I put The Statistical Probability of Love at First Sight act quite similarly, but the road-trip story does concentrates more on the joined unraveling of family problems than on the – certainly not unwelcome – subtle romance. The title and the cover underline the main focus and make the reader expect the right thing, whereas in 'The Statistical Probability of Love at First Sight'the reader expects romance and gets no real love-story but some strange divorce drama that results in family peace, but nonetheless remains kind of unresolved. Am I right to conclude, that Hadley's dad was the one with the love on first sight, which in his book allowed him to leave his wife and his daughter without much ado and without seeking out his daughter for a real conversation before having her adorn his his wedding reception as the only stranger in the midst of his newly acquired friends and family? I know – from personal experience – that a separation does not have to be preceded by life-changing catastrophes or long-hidden secrets. But still, I came to despise "The Professor" and his surfacial, happy-go-lucky behavior more and more the longer I had to face his presence.
What made me press the 3-star-button, you'd like to know? Well, the writing is still exceptionally good. And the disappointing title might even not have been the poor author's idea in the first place. Maybe she pleaded for The Fermentation Process of Mayonnaise , but had to give in to the marketing department in the end. Who knows?