Gates’ (Walking to Israel, 2014)
novel, two Vietnam War–era college students have a two-month romance, break up
and meet again a decade later in the Middle East.
Meredith is a freshman at Indiana
University in 1972 when
she first eyes handsome grad student Lowell Goodenow. Outwardly, the two are
mismatched: Clare is a hippie from Indiana,
while Lowell, who plans a career in the U.S. Foreign Service, is from a fine Virginia family. Despite
their differences, however, a passionate, sexually charged romance ensues.
Eventually, however, Clare’s anti-war activity brings the relationship to a
sudden, seemingly permanent end. Clare signs up for a university program in Mexico, and the trip brings her a new
relationship and new adventures, but it doesn’t succeed in erasing her memories
begins his Foreign Service career overseas but finds he can’t stop thinking
about Clare. Years later, she’s working for a U.S.
tech company that sends her to a conference in Kuwait
City; there, she comes face to face
with Lowell, who’s serving as a U.S.
commercial attaché. They find that the sparks are still there, but so are the
differences that caused their split years ago, making a reunion appear impossible.
Gates is best at setting scenes, and she nicely conjures the pot-filled
counterculture vibe of the 1970s as well as the budding technological scene of
the ’80s. However, the story dwells too long on the initial campus romance,
which sometimes features banal prose (“His gaze swept Clare like a sunburn”). The
book is also occasionally marred by awkward descriptions, as when Lowell remembers Clare’s
hair as “waist-length ripples lit with damp-looking dark-honey color.” When the
former lovers meet in Kuwait City,
though, Gates wisely avoids the temptation to have them simply run back into
each other’s arms, as if time and distance had not kept them apart. The book’s
conclusion may be predictable, but the journey there is by no means dull.
well-plotted, if uneven, international romance.