Seattle novelist Morgan’s (Deeper Waters, 2002, etc.) folksy history lesson revisits a small Welsh town 20 years after the Americans ran through in WWII.
It’s 1968, the Vietnam War rages, and young American Tim Bruce sets off on his Grand Tour of Europe after graduating from Berkeley. Hoping to dodge the draft, and having overheard his pompous law-professor father, Carlton, mention the Welsh town of Clarrach, where he once knew a beautiful girl named Gwyneth Griffiths, Tim decides to head there first (“Maybe he’d discover something about his father he didn’t know already”). And, sure enough, there does exist such a lady near the cliff-town of Clarrach, on the west coast of Wales, the respectable wife to Dr. Rhys Edwards. They welcome the naive American, who has been accepted to Harvard Medical School though he’s not sure he wants to become a doctor. Rhys, a Welsh nationalist who makes no attempt to hide his scorn of what he considers the failed experiment of American democracy, mentions, in a cruel aside, the death of Tim’s political hero Robert Kennedy, then later takes him on rounds to let him see what real doctors do. The past story of Gwyneth and Carlton’s relationship gradually, painfully unfolds, involving a baby born out of wedlock and a gruesome beating-murder of a black GI by his racist fellow soldiers jealous of then-teenaged Gwyneth’s attentions. All the while, naturally, Tim falls wildly in love with the alluring, elusive Gwyneth, and their attraction nicely sparks Oedipal electricity. English-born author Morgan deftly incorporates some forbidden history of the American presence in the country during WWII—“Overpaid, oversexed, and over here”—and she clearly relishes Welsh history and culture. After the initial heavy-handed plotting (clumsy Tim keeps hurting himself so that he has to stay with the Edwardses), Morgan conveys a story that seems to strain on its own to be heard.
A palatable historical novel that holds the nostalgia.