The Feast of Love
(2000), a contemporary romance novel by Charles Baxter, centers on a group of unrelated characters who explore love and how it affects our lives. Receiving various award nominations, the book attracted widespread critical praise upon publication and was made into a major motion picture. The author of numerous novels, essays, short story collections, and poems, Baxter once taught at the University of Michigan and Detroit’s Wayne State University. Before writing and teaching, Baxter graduated from Macalester College and completed further study at the State University of New York.The Feast of Love
is set in Portland. Although there are many central characters in the book, Harry is the protagonist. He lives with his wife, Esther, who is struggling to cope after their son’s death. Harry spends most of his time at a local café, giving out love advice to the younger generation.
The café owner, Bradley, is married to Kathryn. They have only been married six years and already their relationship is deteriorating. Bradley wants the marriage to work, but he is convinced that Kathryn doesn’t love him anymore. He envies Harry’s relationship with Esther because it seems like a happy marriage.
Bradley doesn’t know that Kathryn is bisexual. Not fancying Bradley anymore, she is looking for sexual excitement. She sleeps with a woman called Jenny and decides that it is time to leave Bradley. When Kathryn tells Bradley she wants a divorce, he feels that his world is falling apart. Harry doesn’t know how to help him.
Meanwhile, Oscar, a waiter at the café, falls for a local girl called Chloé. Charming and friendly, she is everything that Oscar wants in a girlfriend. Although Chloé fancies Oscar, she worries about dating him. She is not convinced that they have a long-term future. Oscar’s father, Brat, is an abusive alcoholic; Chloé worries that he is dragging Oscar down the same dark path. Oscar doesn’t know how to prove that he is worthy of Chloé’s affection.
In the meantime, Bradley suffers a nervous breakdown; the divorce is too much for him. When he is feeling better, he hooks up with a beautiful realtor, Diana. Diana wants David, but David refuses to leave his wife, Karen, for her. Bradley doesn’t know that he is Diana’s second choice, but everyone else can see it.
While this all plays out, Chloé falls in love with Oscar. She decides to give their relationship a proper go. She becomes pregnant with their first child, and they announce their engagement. Everything seems to be going well for the couple until a fortune-teller reveals that Oscar will die soon. Oscar doesn’t believe the reading, but Chloé fears that her days with Oscar are numbered.
Meanwhile, Diana gives David an ultimatum. If he doesn’t leave his wife, then she will never sleep with him again. She will marry Bradley instead because he is a nice guy and he adores her. David begs her to understand how difficult it is to leave Karen. He can’t just give up on more than ten years of marriage. Diana understands that David doesn’t love her enough. She dumps him and commits to Bradley. They get married.
Back at the café, Harry thinks over his own problems. A philosophy professor, he took time off to grieve his son, Aaron’s death. It is time that he went back to work, but he is not sure that he is ready for the stress of full-time employment again. Esther urges him to do what makes him happy because Aaron would not want him to suffer.
In the meantime, David’s marriage blows up. Karen finds out that David cheated on her with Diana and realizes that David has been sleeping with Diana for many months. Even though David tells Karen that he doesn’t see Diana anymore, she kicks him out and asks for a divorce. Although David misses Karen, he is now free to be with Diana if she will have him.
David begs Diana for another chance. Since it is David whom she really loves, she agrees to meet with him to discuss things. Oscar and Chloé see David kissing Diana, and they tell Bradley because they don’t want Diana messing him around. Bradley tells Diana he wants a divorce; she can have David if that is who she wants.
Once Bradley files for divorce, Diana and David hook up. Although Bradley knew Diana loved David, it hurts him to see them happy together. He has another breakdown, and he stabs himself in the hand. Diana, feeling terrible for breaking his heart, makes peace with him. Bradley accepts that it is time to move on; hopefully, he will find love again.
Meanwhile, everything goes tragically wrong for Chloé and Oscar. While playing football one day, Oscar collapses and dies. Chloé is now left to bring up two children alone. Harry hates to see Chloé struggling like this. He and Esther offer to make Chloé part of their own family. Chloé accepts their offer and together they move forward.