A music-fancying, middle-aged widower uncovers a double album of painful secrets when he tries to find his first love, who fled Ohio for California in the late 1960s.
Gilberg (Alice Chang, 2016, etc.) offers an offbeat romantic novel about roads not taken and second chances, underscored by a fondness for ’60s music, specifically Bob Dylan’s. Ohioan Tom Patterson, in 1968, had a chance to take off for Southern California with his then-girlfriend, the exciting Dianne Wolfe, and a few other nonconformist friends who shared their fascination for Dylan lyrics and West Coast counterculture. But Tom instead chose the security of a steady job in dull Dayton and, ultimately, a fruitful marriage to a nice, politically conservative girl. By 1990, Tom’s wife is dead and their adult children are out on their own. He wonders about the what-ifs and might-have-beens, had he leapt into the unknown with Dianne all those years ago. He finds out that Dianne began a promising journalistic career with the Los Angeles Times and Rolling Stone, but then dropped off the radar. So Tom sets off across the country to find her, and along the way, he picks up a hitchhiking girl who’s running away from a repressive Kansas upbringing and seeking her birth mother in California. The wayfarer is named Suze—an apparent reference to Dylan’s former real-life girlfriend, Suze Rotolo—and seems strangely familiar. Readers will likely be able to predict a later plot revelation, and they must take it largely on faith that the undeveloped character of Dianne is the sort of person who would haunt a contented family man for decades. But the storytelling is solid, if mellow, and Gilberg doesn’t make the mistake of reflecting on the ’60s by checking off the usual laundry list of Vietnam, Woodstock, Altamont, Apollo 11, and so on. Nor does he overdo the Summer of Love nostalgia when all is disclosed about what happened to Dianne and her fellow Ohio refugees.
A Dylan-infused novel that mostly pulls off its sentiment, even though readers won’t need a weatherman to predict which way the wind blows.