Love’s Attraction

Barnes & Noble

Published by: Winsted Press
Release Date: April 1, 2013
Pages: 548
ISBN13: 978-0-9889022


From literary Concord to the backwater canals of Venice, Love's Attraction takes readers on a tantalizing and thought-provoking journey as Michael Collins, a Washington political fixer facing an impending bribery scandal, is suddenly confronted with a past he never knew and a legacy of heartbreak and deception from which he failed to escape.

Michael Collins is returning to Lowell, the derelict mill city of his childhood, and the funeral of his estranged brother. Driving route 128, he finds himself compelled to stop in nearby Concord and at Emerson Academy, where his precocious youth as a talented pianist and dreams of a rowing scholarship to Harvard ended in devastating scandal. In his senior year, he—the "Lowell-boy"—fell deeply in love with the winsome Sandra Palmer, a blueblood Yankee from an illustrious Concord family, who inexplicably betrayed him—a bitter expulsion that led him down a path he finds himself regretting each day. As Michael revisits scenes of their love affair twenty years later, Sandra's forthright integrity—the passionate and sensitive artist he remembers—shines forth and their wrenching breakup makes less and less sense.

Leaving the Lowell cemetery on the following day, Michael is almost run down by a red pickup truck, perhaps a warning to keep his mouth shut in an upcoming grand jury investigation. Michael decides to disappear by disguising himself as a Thoreau scholar, hiding out in plain sight at the historic Concord Inn. From this oddly liberating vantage point—the life he never had—he discovers the shocking news of Sandra Palmer's recent suicide at Harvard. Made even more troubling when he learns that Sandra had a twin sister, "helter-skelter" Angela Palmer, seventies radical and eighties porn star and internet entrepreneur, who seemingly disappeared around the same time as her sister's senseless suicide.

With the FBI closing in, Michael's investigation into Sandra Palmer's untimely death transforms into an odyssey of discovery about her family's glittering if troubled past: A search for love and redemption that will finally draw him back to his own family roots in Venice. And to the Venice of 1914 as limned in the diary of Sandra's grandfather, the once famous painter, friend to Singer Sargent and Whistler, Joseph Palmer... where yet another tale of deceit and obsession unfolds about the artist's pianist wife and model—Sandra Palmer's namesake, who befriended a poor Venetian stonecutter in the months before World War One. The tragedy of this talented woman's death—she played Boston's Symphony Hall at sixteen—created the world that the young Michael and Sandra unwittingly inherited.

Love's Attraction is a mysterious, romantic novel that explores universal themes of identity: how memory (or its lack), talent and intemperate desires—embodied in art as well as in our genes—are passed down through families to influence our hidden selves. The novel speaks to the role of metamorphosis in our lives and how the transforming elixir of love's attraction makes us most fully human.

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“Operating on many levels, Love's Attraction, by David Cleveland, is a spellbinding journey of identities, inheritance, art, secrets, and inexplicable passion, whatever 'passion' might imply. We follow the increasingly intriguing characters as they careen through Concord, Venice, DC, Cambridge as well as their complex familial histories. For those of us who are recovering English majors this 543 page tome has everything we require - Cleveland is a literate writer of staggering talent. I could not put it down!”
—Eleanor Hubbard, NPR's 'On Point: Books of the Year'

“After a brief beginning in Venice the action of this novel moves to Massachusetts, and mostly to the city of Lowell. I was reminded of Richard Russo's The Bridge of Sighs in the book's family concerns and allusive Venetian elements, but the flavour of Venice is much more pervasive here. Anne Tyler springs to mind too, but maybe just for the setting and the central character's crisis leading to his taking on a new identity or two. The death of his brother brings Michael Collins back to mourn, reluctantly, and to remember and to learn things which play havoc with these memories and his life. These revelations are a little melodramatic, to be honest, but are soon well blended into the plot and manage not to disturb the book's seductive authenticity and assured plotting too much. And Venice is constantly in the background, in paintings, as an inspiration, and as the place where people were born and changed and died. So it's no surprise when the action moves to Venice for the last third of the book. Matters of art and the heart dominate the whole book and Venice is where it's all leading - in the present day and just before WW1. Events and themes centre around the Zattere, Dorsoduro and the Frari church, with the Frari Bellini recurring nicely. Torcello and Santa Maria Assunta loom large too, in ways it would plot-spoil to go into. I'd be recommending you read this artful, moving and stimulating novel even without the lure of the power of its Venetian scenes, and so with them it comes hugely recommended.”
—Jeff Cotton, Fictional Cities

“Thwarted adolescent love, family secrets, art, and Thoreau converge in this gothic family-history novel. Michael Collins is a scholarship kid at an elite Massachusetts prep school in the 1960s, where he deflowers and is deflowered by wealthy good girl Sandra Palmer. Years later, he is on the run from a political scandal, so he hides out in Concord, posing as a Thoreau scholar. He becomes obsessed with Sandra’s sudden, gruesome death and the possibility that he may be a father. He discovers a connection between his grandfather, an Italian gravestone sculptor, and Sandra’s grandfather, a famous artist. Then Sandra shows up in town—or is it her twin sister, Angela? Moving between Concord and Venice, Michael chases Angela (or Sandra?) and uncovers the secretive history of the twins’ grandmother, Sandra, and Angela. This is a twisty, atmospheric tale, leisurely told, about love and creativity, grief and pain, family and identity. The themes of art and obsession may appeal to fans of Donna Tartt’s The Secret History (1992), while the outsider’s exploration of a gothicly messed-up family may beckon to fans of Diane Setterfield’s The Thirteenth Tale (2006).”

“Love's Attraction is a gripper of a romantic novel. Cleveland writes with great gusto and zest, real richness and sensuality. Love's Attraction contains all of the best elements of an intelligent reader's page-turner.”
—Evan Thomas, award-winning author of The Wise Men, Very Best Men, and Ike's Bluff.

“A beautiful, expansive novel that travels engagingly from literary Concord to timeless Venice, and moves intriguingly across generations. The kaleidoscopic story blends mystery, art, and romance while giving new insights into the secrets of love and the power of identity.”
Janice Kaplan, New York Times bestselling author of "I'll See You Again."

“Michael Collins, a political operative, is in hiding in Concord, Mass., posing as a Thoreau scholar, when he decides to investigate the suicide of the love of his life, Sandra. Mixing artists, family connections and Venice, Cleveland has crafted a classic summer read.”
Shelf Awareness

"A Hidden Work of Art," Jan Alexander, Neworld Review

Love’s attraction: one of the mysteries of life that Henry David Thoreau pondered and never solved. In both his first novel, With a Gem-Like Flame, and now his second one, David Adams Cleveland, an author who is not yet well known but deserves to be, wraps a pair of lovers in multiple layers of mystery, chipping away like an obsessed art restorer through contemporary grit until a nearly-forgotten masterpiece begins to emerge.

Fittingly so, since Cleveland is an art historian in his day job, and a specialist in American Tonalism at that. The Tonalists included James McNeill, Whistler, George Inness, and Ralph Albert Blakelock, artists interested in projecting feeling through palpable atmosphere and highly influenced by Transcendentalism and the writings of Thoreau and Ralph Waldo Emerson.  The psychological mystery that is at the heart of this novel begins in the land where the Transcendentalists trod, along the Concord and Merrimack Rivers.

On a warm night in 1969, two awkward teenagers fall in love, sneaking out of a school dance for the boys of Emerson Academy and the girls of Alcott Academy and becoming the unwitting conduits for a tale of deceptions that traverse back through three generations.

Cleveland has woven a more conventional mystery into the story as well, in that 30 years after the fateful dance, Sandra Palmer, the blue-blooded girl who seduced scholarship student Michael Collins then inexplicably betrayed him, has committed suicide.  Or has she?  If you write a mystery involving the death of someone who happens to have an identical twin, literary law pretty much requires that the twin must die in a fog of ambiguity. (See also: Gun on the mantel that must go off.) Is the dead woman Sandra, a respected art restorer who lived for many years in Venice and returned to Massachusetts to go to graduate school at Harvard, whom Michael still loves after all these years. Or is she Angela Palmer, a wild girl of the 1960s who became a porn star?

For Michael, now a Washington lawyer and political fixer with a scandal and a $400,000 cash bribe on his back, a trip back to his hometown of Lowell, Massachusetts—for the funeral of his own brother, who never left the working class-- turns into a search for elusive truths that began not 30 years before, but eight decades earlier, when Sandra’s grandparents were at the center of a group of expat artists in Venice who gave little thought to tomorrow.

The brilliant brushstrokes of language and the perilous allure of three generations of Palmers were a serendipitous discovery for me.  Roaming the fringes of the New York literary world, I received an invitation to hear Cleveland speak at the Princeton Club in New York about his experiences with writing and publishing. There sat a middle aged man who said bookstores had mis-cast his first novel, placing it in the mystery section, when really it was a Venice novel aimed at the sensibilities of readers who love the Venice of Henry James.

Without a strong sales record he’d had trouble selling his second novel until a small quality house picked it up—and published it with handsome art reproductions throughout. I went home with a copy of Love’s Attraction but didn’t have high expectations.  For every Herman Melville inspecting goods for U.S. Customs because his novel about a captain’s grand obsession with a great white whale didn’t sell well for its first 50 years, there must be at least a thousand unknown scribes whose prose ranges from tediously solipsistic to learned but bereft of anything magical.

But I opened the pages and soon was lost in the meanderings of two troubled families and the games that played out amongst Sandra/Angela’s famous artist grandfather and the beautiful gadabout model who was their grandmother, Sandra Chillingworth Palmer; the older Sandra’s own twin sister named Angela; and Michael’s Venetian stonecutter grandfather, Giovanni Maronetti, who, as it turns out, met the Palmers and went back to America with them.

Sometimes a brilliant novel does float around neglected. Happily for Cleveland, Love’s Attraction may be on the verge of discovery; Wolf Films, the company that produced Law & Order, has bought the rights for an HBO mini-series.

Those Palmers are a seductive clan that can get away with almost anything, and it’s hard to shake the uneasy feeling that Cleveland might have absolved at least one of them too readily of suspicion of murder. If there’s a flaw in the story-telling it’s that they’ve captivated even the author—but it’s hard for an observer not to get lost in the lush debauchery of the grandparents’ life in pre-World War I Venice, and the messages Joseph Palmer conveyed through his art.

There is, for example, a painting he did in 1924, after his beloved wife had died in childbirth at the hands of Venetian doctors and he’d returned to Massachusetts with Angela and Giovanni. The painting was called “Dreaming Sisters,” and the upright Brahmin Chillingworths had sued to keep it from public view. “The nude women lay together in the grassy meadow in a half embrace of tangled limbs and disheveled hair, on the verge of sleep or just waking, The half-lidded eyes and parted lips hinted at a swoon or a burgeoning awareness, of some raw sensual gratification, a palpable air of postcoital bliss.”

Michael, viewing the sisters in their racy tableau, wonders if it’s just another form of dexterous subterfuge.  Suffice to say, the grandparents’ legacy lives on within the latter-day Angela, who is not only the star but also the producer of artistic porn videos, and grows rich from her self-made empire while the rest of the Palmer fortune declines.

The marble sculptures by Michael’s grandfather, on the other hand, seem to burst with sorrow over what might have been. In one aching description: “Michael now saw in those marble faces a lament for a lost love, something unfinished, perhaps abandoned; and in that love transmuted to stone, a terrible disappointment.” A harbinger, it seems, of Michael’s own fear that Sandra’s love has turned to stone.  It isn’t just her betrayal; he can’t shake the idea that the Palmers, though their family fortune is gone and their lives have taken twisted paths, are too good for the likes of the former scholarship boy.

But he pursues the truth with a magnificent obsession—there’s that staple that makes great fiction larger than life again—hiding in plain sight from the law (Michael Collins’ Washington troubles have forced him to disappear) and pretending to be a Thoreau scholar named William Channing. Not too many people in town get it, that the purported scholar in their midst has the same name as William Ellery Channing, a footloose Transcendentalist poet who wrote the first biography of Thoreau. That oversight borne of ignorance is believable, though it’s a bit of a stretch that in the late 1990s, with the world fast discovering the Internet, a man on the lam could disguise himself with only a beard and a fake name. Still, it somehow feels right for art’s sake—akin to the liberties you can take with an eyewitness view in a painting versus photojournalism—as well as for Michael’s sake, because at last he’s taken up the career he probably should have had.

He thinks of the “losses and disappointments, which had turned Thoreau into a confirmed bachelor, facetious and skeptical of women: a man who had succeeded at many practical things but remained tortured by feelings of failure in his chosen field as a writer and naturalist. He had been frustrated, too, in a life of inquiry running out, by his inability to discern the underlying principals—the theory of evolution and genetic inheritance nearly within his grasp—that explained the connection between all living things, notwithstanding the power of love, the attraction.”   Michael’s pursuits are those of Thoreau in a microcosm, pared down from all of humanity to the inheritance that stalks the Palmer family and his own, both families stamped with the rocky repercussions of love’s attraction. It won’t be a spoiler if I say that when you fall in love with a Palmer twin, a deception worthy of a novel in its own right is essential to a happy ending


“I picked up your novel Love’s Attraction by chance at Edgartown (MA) Books to read while on vacation this week. I’m just writing to thank you for such a fine story. It’s rare that I want to finish a book without putting it down but your story has captivated me. I have to travel back to Louisville in the morning but your book will be tucked into my briefcase alongside my e-reader:) Perhaps you’ll consider visiting us in KY at Carmichael Books for a reading. My fellow Louisvillians would love your work!”
—Thanks, Michael Bellissimo

“I have read Love’s Attraction, and I am remiss for not having written you sooner.  I thoroughly enjoyed it — so much so that I read it twice, once in hard cover (preferred) and once as an e-book.  Re-reading it was thoroughly rewarding, as I picked up on many subtle nuances and clues that I missed the first time.  And of course, the last page made shivers go up and down my spine with the beauty of its emotion and closure.”
—Henry Whiting II

“Thanks so much for sending us a copy of Love's Attraction.  I enjoyed the book—my husband and I spent a week in Venice a year ago May and reading your book brought back many happy memories.  With another couple we rented a great apartment on the Giudecca.  We took the boat trip to Tortello so I could picture the church where the restoration took place.  I will certainly recommend Love's Attraction—especially if I think a customer is looking for a good book with an art background or a book about Italy.”
—Elizabeth Merritt, Events coordinator for Titcomb's Books

“Your book does rank up there with Tartt and Russo, but I found myself thinking of John Fowles (the Magus). Now, I am dating myself, but I read it when it first came out, and I was in my early thirties. It has stayed with me (and haunted me) as yours, I am certain, will. Yours was a wonderfully mysterious labyrinthine read. I must admit that I did something shameful. I wrote all over it ; my reactions, questions, ideas, and inspirations...Yours is indeed, a novel for the serious reader; one who can appreciate the allusions to Thoreau, artists. All along the way one cannot be certain which twin is with Michael/David and what on earth will be their fates? I would love to see you write the sequel and cannot wait to see the movie. Was there a real artist Joseph Palmer? I shall, with the same enthusiasm, sell your marvelous novel.”
—Darby Collins, Head Bookseller, Books & Books, Coral Gables