|Review by: Elizabeth Blakesley Lindsay||
By Stephanie Gertler
In 1967, New York teens Emily Hudson and Jim Moran were madly in love and were enjoying the summer at the Hudson family beach home in Connecticut. Jim is suddenly sent off to Marines boot camp by a father who, as Jim puts it, may not have been sober enough to realize there was a war going on, and the couple is pulled apart. After boot camp, Jim and Emily meet one more time in the fall of 1967, but because of some misunderstandings, become permanently estranged. Gertler lets both characters tell their stories in alternating chapters, all done in first person narrative. Gertler also uses present and past tense in the narration, to interesting effect.
At the opening of the novel, thirty years have passed, and Emily, unhappy in a souring marriage, decides to try to reconnect with Jim. After losing Jim, Emily goes to college and eventually marries Peter Walters, has four children and at age 46, is feeling trapped in a marriage that has lost its spark. Although she has achieved regional success as a painter, Emily feels unfulfilled with her roles as wife and mother. She has never forgotten being "Jimmy's girl," and she uses the Internet to look up phone numbers for all the people named James Robert Moran she can find.
After losing Emily, Jim spends several harrowing years fighting in Vietnam and returns home, eventually settling in the South, marrying, and adopting a child. He loves his daughter, but he also is dissatisfied with his marriage and his work. Emily's call reawakens him.
They begin a long distance correspondence via letter and telephone and arrange to meet each other for a long weekend in Washington, D.C., under the pretense of Emily needing to interview Jim for a series of paintings and writings she is doing about the Vietnam war experience. They begin a physical affair that weekend and are faced with the dilemma of whether to continue together or to return to their spouses and families. What's most interesting is the unfolding of their pasts and how Gertler narrates some events twice, giving both characters a chance to recall, reminisce, and tell their side of the story. Along with strong portrayals of Emily, Jim and their families, the war in Vietnam and the social history of the 1960s and 1970s play major roles in the novel. While in Washington, they do visit the Vietnam Veteran's Memorial, which unlocks some of Jim's most troubling memories of the war.
Although Gertler provides the predictable bittersweet ending, strong writing and solid characters keep the story from becoming too melodramatic. The shifts of point-of-view and tense are interesting, and the characters are appealing and well-drawn. Many readers will enjoy this examination of the classic "what if?" question.