A glum tale of love lost and then haphazardly regained in middle age.
Lee is happy enough with her lot in life as the proud wife of a small-town history professor, mother of three grown children, contentedly rooted in the house she was raised in. But with the small-press publication of her memoir about traveling with her extraordinary grandmother, Lee begins to fret over the past, especially that London summer she met Simon and experienced first love—maybe, she realizes unsettlingly all these years later, her only true love. This is a sticky situation for a happily married woman, but how happy is she really? Lee begins to consider her safe choices: staying put in Maine, marrying stolid Ben very shortly after her parents’ accidental death, becoming the ever-helpful cheerleader to her husband’s never-finished study of a dull Maine lumberjack, and of course suppressing the reckless passion she felt for Simon. Much of the story travels back to Lee and Simon’s meeting, their parting and pledging of eternal love, and the one-night stand they had in their 30s, when Lee and Ben spent an academic summer abroad in London. To the novel’s detriment, Lee’s tale makes a pale footnote to her memories of Grandmother Marguerite, a memorable beauty and a real grande dame, bejeweled, adulterous, and spoiled, feasting on the banquet of life. Part of Lee’s problem, we quickly see, is that she feels small under Marguerite’s consuming shadow, but that insight doesn’t help the plot much. Now 50 and increasingly obsessed with Simon, Lee manages a trip to England to see whether the real man can live up to the exalted memory. And if he does, then what? The talented Medwed, author of two endearingly witty previous novels (Host Family, 2000, etc.), has lost her timing this go-round, with a sad heaviness and some not particularly funny jokes replacing her former comic charm.
Occasionally funny and touching but, overall, a disappointment.