Seventeen-year-old Clare 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 of Lowell. Similarly, Lowell 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.
A well-plotted, if uneven, international romance.