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Tuesday, April 3, 2012

'Comeback Love' by Peter Golden

 Received from the Publisher

From the BLURB:

What would you do if you had a second chance with the one that got away?

More than thirty-five years ago, Gordon Meyers, an aspiring writer with a low number in the draft lottery, packed his belongings and reluctantly drove away, leaving behind Glenna Rising, the sexy, sharp-witted med student he couldn’t imagine living without.

Now, decades later, Gordon is a former globe-trotting consultant with a grown son, an ex-wife, and an overwhelming desire to see Glenna again. Though she’s stunned when Gordon walks into her Manhattan office, Glenna agrees to accompany him for a drink. As the two head out into the snow-swept city, they rediscover the passion that once drew them together—before it tore them apart. And as the evening unfolds, Gordon will finally reveal the true reason for his return. . . .

Comeback Love is an evocative journey into the hearts of two lovers who came of age in the 1960s, and who never truly let each other go. Plumbing the depths of youth, regret, and desire, Peter Golden deftly illuminates the bonds that mysteriously endure in the face of momentous change.

It’s present day and Gordon Meyers visits the graves of his dead father, aunt and uncle. With snow falling, he speaks to their ghosts and silently cries for an uncontrollable future that rests on the precipice . . . and then he gets in his car and drives to Manhattan, a city as full of ghosts as his hometown cemetery.

While in the big city, Gordon cannot help but return to old haunts and visit a woman from his past. A woman, who has never been far from his mind; not even when he married, had a son, divorced and spent his years as a military consultant, flying from one war-torn country to another.

Glenna Rising is more than a little surprised to see her old boyfriend, Gordo, waiting in her doctor’s office. She suspects his visit is less spontaneous than he’s willing to admit, but she’s going to take the time, over a few drinks, to get to the heart of his reappearance in her life after thirty-five years of silence. . .

And then the years melt away and old memories, past loves and faded wounds are remembered. We backtrack through the 1960s, when Gordon and Glenna’s love affair first started, and where it all went wrong. . .

‘Comeback Love’ is a new romance novel from Peter Golden.

Every book is a journey . . .  that’s kind of the point. But it’s the best books that leave you a little battered and weary after reading, which pack such an emotional punch that you need to take a moment after reading to appreciate and reflect on the beaten path travelled. ‘Comeback Love’ is one of those books.

Peter Golden’s book sways between past and present; between New York City shrouded in snow, the setting of two long ago lovers being reacquainted, and then to 1960s Manhattan, where we meet Gordon Meyers. Gordon is in limbo; unsure of whether he wants to be a journalist, fiction writer or join the Vietnam War effort and follow in his father’s military footsteps. He is writing an investigative piece on a group of students, who are advocating for legal abortions, and his research leads him to Glenna Rising, a third-year med student and the prettiest girl Gordon’s ever seen. Glenna and Gordon’s connection is immediate, despite their differences – Gordon is unsettled in his life, while Glenna is determined to become a doctor. As the lovers reminisce in present-day New York, Gordon, the book’s narrator, reflects on the finer details of their past love . . . 
My hand roamed along the soft slope of her back, then under the faded denim of her cutoffs, caressing round, taut flesh before moving up again, her skin a rosy copper color in the lantern light. I knew that I should get on with it, but I didn’t want this moment to end, didn’t want to turn it into a different moment, maybe better, but not this exact moment, with its boundless promise, its serenity, its grace. I glanced out the bay window, where the evening sky was purple with a satiny sheen, the dark wisps of clouds like wrinkles in the satin.
I said, “I feel like I've known you my whole life.”
Glenna, more impressed by science than mystery, replied, “You haven’t.”
“But I wanted to.”
Now she had another expression entirely serious, hesitant, vulnerable. “Here I am,” she whispered.

But as Glenna and Gordon update one another on their lives in the present, old hurts begin creeping into the conversation – and Gordon is forced to remember the pitfalls of their past too, and the events leading up to their break-up, which coincided with Gordon being drafted to Vietnam.

Glenna and Gordon’s romance is simply sublime, especially for being so ordinary. These are two people living through extraordinary times, and major historic events are touched upon throughout the book – Glenna’s roommate supports the Black Panther Party, the Vietnam War rages and Woodstock kicks off. These events do affect the character throughout the book, particularly when Glenna’s burgeoning medical career has her taking an extremist route with abortion reform, and Gordon is drafted. But, essentially, Peter Golden is writing an ordinary, everyday love story . . . and for some reason that makes it even more special.

Before Gordon meets up with Glenna again, he reflects that his grown up son, Alex, has been pushing him for years to get back into the dating scene since his divorce. What Alex isn’t aware of though, is that Gordon’s heart never fully recovered from losing Glenna Rising. I thought ‘Comeback Love’ was a lovely examination of the secrets people keep – that we all have these private components of the heart and our history, and we keep old hurts close. It also reminded me of that Jack Kerouac quote from ‘On The Road’: “I realized these were all the snapshots which our children would look at someday with wonder, thinking their parents had lived smooth, well-ordered lives and got up in the morning to walk proudly on the sidewalks of life, never dreaming the raggedy madness and riot of our actual lives, our actual night, the hell of it, the senseless emptiness.” And the Kerouac connection again reiterates that ‘Comeback Love’ feels like a real journey – a road trip of the heart (if you want to get all Hallmark about it).

The novel is set in 1960s New York, and explores Glenna and Gordon’s long-term relationship through to the early 1970s. And the setting of the novel is incredibly important – beyond just the references to Beatles lyrics and a psychedelic trip to Woodstock hitchhiking with a crazy man – because Golden evokes 60s American politics and actually draws comparisons to contemporary debates. And I know that sounds like it would be out of place in a romance novel, to have such a focus on politics (both past and present) and to examine abortion, of all the hot-button topics to include in a romance! But it works, and is actually an interesting investigation into how things change, and how everything stays the same. . . which, again connects back to Gordon and Glenna’s romance.

Maybe it’s because I was reading ‘Comeback Love’ in the wake of a raging debate on women’s health in America, but Peter Golden does a brilliant job of rehashing 1960s American politics and abortion reform, while also (intentionally?) highlighting connections to present day political garble. Glenna is a med student and a part of a group advocating legalized abortions. And, as a med student, she knows the state of illegal abortions in the country – the backroom butchers who took women’s money and left them bloodied and more often than not, dead. Glenna and her fellow students rehash the 1969 legislative debate in which Martin Ginsberg, New York assemblyman and polio victim, proposed abortion exception for foetal abnormalities and set the cause back with moral debate. In recent days the women’s health ‘issue’ has similarly raged in America – from Sandra Fluke apparently being a slut for wanting free contraception to the entire issue regressing into a moral debate about abstinence. What’s funny is that, similar to 1960s abortion reform in America, the current women’s health debate seems to be being debated by men . . .  and, as Jon Stewart has brilliantly and satirically argued, men are the best people to be solely speaking out about women’s health and women’s issues.

Gordon and Glenna’s explorations into abortion (the history of, and policies surrounding) are not written ham-fistedly or purely to push Republican buttons. It all leaks back into what led to their break-up, to the triggers that altered their personalities and priorities over the years. And, while it’s not exactly a topic you’d expect in your typical feel-good romance, Peter Golden’s explorations into 1960s ‘women’s issues’ was fascinating nonetheless, and thought provoking . . .  and all a part of the journey.

I really loved ‘Comeback Love’. It’s a little ‘The Way We Were’; set around the beautiful saga of an ordinary love story spanning thirty-five years. . .  but the novel deepens and explores cross-generational wars and 1960s politics, while highlighting how the changing times are eerily similar to the past. Peter Golden definitely takes readers on a journey with Gordon and Glenna – and trekking through their love, both past and present, is a most worthwhile expedition.


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