Sunday, October 10, 2010


After You've Gone - it's a title that comes to mean more and more as Jeffrey Lent's novel progresses.  In the early chapters it describes the life of college teacher Henry Dorn, whose happy marriage of over thirty years is abruptly ended when his beloved wife Olivia is killed in a car driven by their son Robert, who is perhaps under the influence of morphine and perhaps self-destructive.  

But it also describes Henry's early life in Nova Scotia, where, with the help of an understanding uncle, he flees the rigid and cold life his family has carved out for him in a fishing village in order to find a more satisfying life teaching college girls and raising a family in the Finger Lakes region of New York.  After he's gone he finds it difficult to visit the cold and resentful family he has left behind.

The later chapters describe Henry's departure from Elmira, New York to Amsterdam, where he hopes to reconnect with his Dutch roots and leave behind the sorrow that haunts him after his wife's death.  A shipboard romance with Lydia, a younger high-spirited and independent American woman, leads to a more serious relationship as the two settle into an idyllic summer romance in Amsterdam.  When she leaves him for Paris in order to contemplate their future, he is once more left behind to struggle with what it means to be alone and how to move forward into a new life, including a mid-life attempt to learn to play the cello.

Lent moves easily between these time periods as he pushes the story backwards and forward without jarring breaks.  His beautifully paints the portrait of a content and happy marriage that is anything but boring, and is masterful at describing the tender and painful bonds between parents and children.  He writes beautifully about a romance between two adults who struggle valiantly to overcome the baggage of their past lives.  And for me he kind of spoiled it with an unnecessarily melodramatic ending.

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