It’s hard to be the world’s greatest lover when you think you’re the world’s only virgin…
The Plot: High school senior Marcus Rosenbloom is a mess: an aspiring writer who can’t get it together to complete his creative writing seminar assignments, a self-styled Don Juan who has no luck with the ladies, he exists in the shadow of his smooth-talking best friend, Alec, who gets all the girls and all the lead roles in local community theater productions.
It is hard to have any sympathy for Marcus: he kind of comes off as a creep, as he (sometimes literally) throws himself at every woman who crosses his path. Chief among these is his childhood friend, Wendy, who has moved back to the suburbs with her aunt and uncle after abandoning her mother and terrible stepfather in Buffalo, NY. After Wendy rejects his advances, they renew their friendship, and spend countless hours “hanging out” while Wendy pursues the sophisticated Alec (you know he’s sophisticated because he uses a cigarette holder!)
After he receives a few encouraging words from his teacher on the short story that he (finally!) turns in, Marcus decides he’s the next Ian Fleming
Marcus imagined that the girls all over the room were looking up to him.
“Who’s that stunning guy, that senior?” “Look who just came in… Isn’t he gorgeous?” “Oh, god, it’s Marcus Rosenbloom. He’s a writer, you know, only seventeen and so brilliant… Sexy!”
Marcus kind of jumps the gun after submitting his story to Playboy and convinces his mother to let him drop out of school to pursue his “career”, although he continues to meet once a week with his writing teacher.
However, once he has endless time to practice his craft, Marcus finds infinite excuses for not doing so. He instead applies for a job as a clerk at the local grocery store, and eventually takes a job babysitting for Karen, a single mother who has just moved to town. Karen becomes Marcus’s new object of adolescent lust, but his employment comes to an end when he (again, literally) throws himself at her when he perceives her to be “in need” after a fight with her ex-husband.
Meanwhile, Wendy isn’t making much headway with Popular Alec, so she and Marcus are in one another’s constant company, to the point where everyone assumes that they’re dating.
Wendy is by far the more relatable character: smart and outspoken (“Wendy’s too smart for you, [Alec]. You wouldn’t know what to do with an honest-to-god smart woman”), but also slightly dense, especially when Marcus has a brainstorm to solve their collective romantic problems:
“We’ll probably be doing things together this summer, right? So why don’t we go together officially?”
“Go together?” she repeated “We are together.”
“What do people do when they go together, Wendy?”
“Oh, Oh! You mean boyfriend and girlfriend. Ok, I get it. You want us to go together.”
You know GO TOGETHER.
Maybe the whole set up was racier upon its original publication 35 years ago, but I’m not going to lie: I pretty much cringed my way through this entire book, and I still don’t know if that means it is good or if it’s bad. Marcus never really experiences the personal growth needed to make him likeable: while he admits that he’s a boner-crazed social clod, that isn’t enough to make him actually sympathetic.
And to her credit, Wendy gets this: she dumps him in a post-coital moment when he blurts out that he’s thinking about Karen. Smooth, bro.
Marcus is first self-righteously angry, then depressed when Wendy won’t return his calls, but after graduation, they both seem to move on. Alec finally notices what a cool chick Wendy is and starts giving her the time of day, while girls start paying attention to Marcus at his grocery story job. Realistic ending, right?
Except that’s not the end. While Playboy rejects his short story (because, duh, they are not going to publish sexy adventure stories written by a 17 year old virgin!), he submits a piece about his 6th grade crush rejecting his Valentine (SEASONALLY APPROPRIATE!) to the local newspaper’s Sunday supplement, for which he is paid $25 for publication.
Marcus realizes that Wendy is really the only person he wants to share the news with, and gets her to agree to meet with him, and they reunite as he makes the titular declaration. Because everyone knows that if you don’t meet your One True Love by the time you graduate high school you are destined to die alone. The end.
Sign It Was Written in 1981 Department: When Marcus and Wendy are making out under a blanket on a public beach, Wendy explains that if anybody questions what they are doing “we’ll tell them we’re changing the film in the camera.”
Western NY Shout-Out Department: Marcus and Wendy have a shared love of Freihofer’s chocolate chip cookies.
Also: “Things don’t happen in Buffalo the way they do everywhere else.”