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A young man and woman meet, love each other, and are consumed. It’s a story as old as romance itself, but in this enthralling novel John Burnham Schwartz tells it with heart-stopping new immediacy. In the middle of a rainstorm Julian Rose, a self-effacing Harvard graduate student, takes refuge beneath a girl’s yellow umbrella. The girl, the woman, is Claire Marvel, lovely, mercurial, mired in family tragedy. She is the last person someone like Julian should fall in love with. But he does.
What ensues is a great and difficult passion strewn with obstacles–not least those arising from Claire and Julian’s disparate characters. And as these young people find and lose each other, then seek each other anew, Schwartz places romantic love within an entire continuum of attachments that require the full reserves of our openness and courage.
Not since Love Story wallowed shamelessly in schmaltz has a novel cast such a sentimental haze over college romance as this third novel by Schwartz (Bicycle Days; Reservation Road). Julian Rose, a Ph.D. candidate in political science at Harvard in the '80s, is at the beginning of what might be a brilliant career, having just signed on as assistant to his dissertation adviser, Carl Davis, a schmoozer with the powers that be in the Reagan administration. On the way to his first official meeting with Davis, Julian is caught in a downpour and offered shelter under an umbrella by Claire Marvel, a lovely if capricious art history student. Claire, whose father is dying of cancer, is in no shape to begin a relationship, but she and Julian slowly drift toward each other. A stay in a country house in France is the highlight of their time together, but a series of misunderstandings causes things to go downhill, until Julian catches Davis and Claire together. The unthinkable happens: she marries Davis. Even her marriage can't keep Julian and Claire apart, but when Claire discovers she is pregnant with Davis's child, Julian decides he must leave her for good. Retreating to New York City, where he grew up, he embarks on a career teaching political science at his old prep school and marries another woman, the cool, safe Laura. He meets Claire once in 11 years; one day he hears of her death. Schwartz's tearjerker plot is delivered in velvety, sometimes unctuous prose, and the progress of its protagonists' star-crossed love is contrived, but Schwartz rescues his novel from burnished banality with a number of small, spot-on observations that briefly and unexpectedly lift the story above its conventional moorings. Author tour.