Harry meets Catherine in New York City and dumps her in Washington, D.C. But for most of the time, Harry isn’t much in evidence at all, and the story becomes Catherine’s melancholy one of true love found, lost, discarded and barely understood.
The affair of these thirtysomething White House staffers ends in secrets and lies—Harry’s, that is. He, a special adviser to the president, simply disappears one night, leaving her, a spokeswoman for the vice president, to figure out whether Harry fled in fear of love, or for love of duty. It hardly matters: Catherine rewards Harry’s deceits with unwavering loyalty and perfect recall of their perfect past together. Catherine rails at—but relishes—their affair: an intensely romantic beginning, blameless middle, and sucker-punch end. First-novelist McConnell has a precise and poetic eye for the details of a love story set in New York, or for a career rise and fall set in small-town, big-ego Washington, D.C. She’s sketchy on the psychological nuances of betrayal and deceit, though, satisfied to leave her heroine blissfully ignorant and maddeningly vulnerable. Subplots involving a romance between Catherine and her boss, the widowed vice president, and a best friendship with a gay White House employee are trite and predictable. Still, this is a praiseworthy effort to blend romance novel and spy tale, and to imbue the result with passion and poetry. Our heroine looks up at a night sky and wonders “about the astronauts’ wives. I wondered if those women ever got mad at their loneliness. As they stood on the ground, pregnant and hot, I wondered if they ever looked up and cursed the men who left them for bigger things, for their own egos and glory and space.”
In the end, Catherine remains not only a victim of love but exiled from grown-up romance and murky modern-day politics.