Dennis & Greer, a highly engaging and altogether unique book, comprises a love story told with intimate clarity. Their story is comprised of letters and journal entries from the two eponymous characters, who fell in love during the Vietnam war. Edited by Molly Gould, it tells the story of a man her mother loved before her father, which gives the book a wholly unique perspective – not just of Gould’s family, but the timelessness of young love.
What comes through strongest in the book is the genuine humanity of Dennis and Greer – one is tempted to call them “characters,” as their story has the feeling and breathless scope of a fictional romance. There are themes that you will find in many young adult or new adult romances, told here against the backdrop of war.
Dennis and Greer are young, they are in love, and they could be many of us. The vast majority of the story’s drama involves the complexities of falling and staying in love. Dennis never does anything by halves, and Greer second-guesses her course regularly. Their shared love of poetry creates letters filled with flowery prose and excerpts from their most beloved authors. Because of their religious beliefs, they are very careful about physical boundaries, but they never deny their desire for more. At times sensual, sweet, and bitter, the letters have perfectly preserved the wild highs and lows of an intense and enduring love.
Readers should understand the time in which these letters were written, as there are a few moments that give one pause. For instance, there are a few times when individuals of different races are referred to by terms that would be wildly inappropriate in today’s society. There are also a number of jokes and references to wife beating. Although Dennis and Greer never become physically violent with one another – and their jokes are clearly just that – sensitive readers should be prepared for these moments in the book.
Although the story is overall a very interesting read, the nature of personal letters means there are long stretches throughout the book where relatively little happens. The two discuss daily life and passing thoughts, like any loving couple in a long distance relationship, and while that is touching to a large degree, it veers to the mundane in places. In a way, this is what makes the book so recognizable and timeless in their devotion to each other, but there is some content that doesn’t aid the overall story of their young romance.
Additionally, the “story” of their correspondence is sometimes disjointed. One writer might compose several letters in a row, which leads to gaps in the narrative, wherein questions posed in one letter aren’t answered in the next in the sequence. Each letter is dated, which helps with clarity, but there is not always a narrative flow in how the letters are presented.
Overall, Dennis & Greer is a fascinating time capsule that has echoes for any era. It will be especially moving for those who lived through the Vietnam era, but it’s also recommended for anyone who enjoys young love stories.
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