Although the title of Ben Schrank’s Love Is A Canoe promises a schmaltzy romance formula tale, the story has more Oprah soul-searching than bodice ripping. Schrank observes relationships and offers a perspective that compares a self-help marriage manual to the reality of three couples, while he humorously skewers the book publishing business.
The story bounces back and forth from Peter Herman, author of the marriage manual (“Love is a Canoe”) based on his observations of his grandparents’ idyll in the country, to a young professional couple with infidelity issues – Eli, a bicycle designer, and Emily, a branding consultant, and finally back to Peter’s new relationship years after publication and the death of his wife. Stella, the young, aspiring editor at the publishing company that launched the book, connects the characters and fuels the action with a publicity event to raise interest and sales for an anniversary edition – a contest to meet the author.
Peter Herman, a one book wonder, has become a legendary hero – Schrank compares him to Mitch Albom, with the hint that Herman’s book has the same syrupy lessons, and includes excerpts from the fictitious marriage manual with its chapters ending with self-help advisory quotes that sound funny rather than cynical:
Good love is a quilt – light as feathers and strong as iron.
Desire for your loved ones gives you strength to paddle on.
Find time to be together every day – just the two of you – in your canoe.
After a slow start, the story finally finds its focus when the contest winners – Emily and Eli – spend a weekend with the author. Peter’s misguided attempts at marriage counseling and his inept cooking offer some humor, but husband Eli is irredeemable and the disastrous outcome seems predictable. Stella is left to deal with the repercussions in the publishing world, but the outcome is not what you would expect.
Finally, all the characters find their centers and go off with likable partners – albeit not necessarily soul-mates. Minor characters reappear at the end to happily complete each scenario.
A music playlist accents the dialogue adding drama and quirky background; you can almost hear the songs of Neil Young, Credence Clearwater Revival, Roger Miller, and the Rolling Stones that helped to define the characters.
They had Emily’s iPod plugged into the car’s amazing stereo and they were listening to Exile on Main Street. Emily always wanted to listen to Alison Krauss and Eli would have preferred the new Dinosaur Jr. album, so the Rolling Stones were how they compromised.
Although Shrank concocts a modern cautionary tale about marriage, love, and publishing, Love Is A Canoe has enough funny moments to keep the story light – despite the moral that sometimes people fool themselves into living with their illusions.