The summer that Megan Moore discovered Gabriel García Márquez she ran six hundred and thirty miles in ten weeks, her father left and shacked up with the ex-Playboy bunny, her mother moved the race-car driver into the bonus suite, her sister Courtney toked up daily in the tree house out back, their little brother John Paul swiped underthings from their rooms, and the city of Dallas recorded seventy-three straight days of one hundred-plus degrees. Megan had ridden her bike over to Books-A-Plenty because the harsh light of afternoon was flaying her nerves, and to be in that house, with those people, made her want to cut off all her hair and flush it down the toilet. Seventeen dollars of birthday money remained to her, and she roamed the aisles of books like a famished feral cat. Until now, her reading had been haphazard, promiscuous. She read whatever came to hand—her mother’s Danielle Steele throbbers, Courtney’s untouched novels from senior English, her father’s Forbes magazines and business-titan biographies. In the pre-internet year of 1990, smart, restless girls with bibliophile tendencies went to the library, or, on really bad days when spending money held out the only hope of relief, haunted their local bookstores.
A cover caught Megan’s eye on the fiction shelves, an enormous, blatantly labial purple flower on which a dark-haired nude reclined with her head thrown back, eyes closed in a showy orgasmic swoon. Love in the Time of Cholera. She inhaled the first forty pages standing right there, shifting from foot to foot and itching with exasperation. It was almost too much, the jangly stimulus of headlong sentences like a minor key symphony that never resolves, or a hot needle poked in your belly button. She read all the way to Dr. Urbino’s dying words—Only God knows how much I loved you—and snapped the book shut. Her chest slowly filled with air. Had she even taken a breath these past thirty minutes? She wanted to scream, or flail about like a girl possessed, or collapse into a deep, dreamless sleep that might last for days.