This Time Love
This Time Love was originally published as the 1986 series romance Sequel. It has been “extensively rewritten” by the author and is now being released in hardcover. I’ve never read Sequel and have no idea what changes have been made to the original novel (except the hero’s use of the f-word, which is surely new). But I will say that the end result is not bad at all.
Be aware, though, that the whole plot of This Time Love is based on a Big Misunderstanding, with a little Secret Baby thrown in. Seven years ago, Gabriel Venture was a twenty-three year old journalist, just on the cusp of fame and glory. He was writing an article about an extraordinary system of caverns in New Mexico called Lost River Cave when he met Joy Smith-Anderson, a brilliant and buoyant young woman who was, like Gabe, fascinated with the cave. The two fell in love and had a passionate, brief relationship before Gabe was called away by the demands of his career. He left all his money for Joy, just in case she was pregnant. She thought he was leaving the money for her to have an abortion. He thought, through a miscommunication, that she did have an abortion. Both wounded and furious, they never saw each other again – even after Joy gave birth to his daughter.
Now Gabe is coming back to Lost River Cave. A near-death experience has made him reevaluate his life, and he returns to New Mexico hoping to come to grips with the memory of his relationship with Joy. He doesn’t expect her to still be there. Joy is now Dr. Anderson; while raising Gabe’s child she somehow managed to write a Ph.D. thesis on speleology (the scientific study of caves), and now leads a troupe of graduate students in the cave’s exploration. Joy is just barely willing to put aside her enduring resentment of Gabe in order to help him with his article about the cave, since it could help her get a grant that will allow her to continue her research.
The initial confrontations between Joy and Gabe crackle with tension. He doesn’t understand why she hates him: she’s the one who aborted their child behind his back. She doesn’t understand why he hates her: he’s the one who dumped her when she was pregnant and went off to jet-set around the world without her.
What saves this book is that both Joy and Gabe try to do the right thing, in spite of the misunderstanding. This is especially true of Gabe. Under his fury is a well of tenderness for Joy, and he earnestly tries to put himself in her shoes and understand why she did what he thinks she did. Some of Lowell’s novels feature heroes who act like complete jerks; Gabe does not fall into this category at all, to my relief. Joy harbors a lot more anger and resentment towards Gabe, and she is the one who maintains their separation. Some readers might find her prickly and cold, but I found her complex, conflicted feelings to be particularly realistic. Joy became a single mother at twenty, and her anger is fueled not only by her broken heart but by her envy of Gabe, who got to travel all over the world while she was home raising a baby. There’s no question that she adores her daughter or that she has a satisfying career, but she just can’t forgive Gabe for the lost opportunities of her life.
Much of this novel takes place within Lost River Cave, a fictitious cave system based (I believe) on Carlsbad Caverns. Lowell sets the love story against a backdrop of cave exploration, and I found all the details about cavern formation fascinating. The author does a very good job of describing the wonder, as well as the incredible danger, of navigating through an unexplored cave system. She also uses the cave as a metaphor for the character’s lives and relationship.
I liked this book, but the first several chapters are extremely repetitious. This may have been a flaw in the original book, but I suspect that the book was padded in the rewrite. We learn again and again about the accident that changed Gabe’s life; we hear again and again about how Joy has had to put her childhood behind her. These are things that don’t need to be emphasized nearly as much as they are. Because of all the circuitous repetition in the beginning, Joy and Gabe don’t actually lay eyes each other until page 72 – before that it’s all flashbacks and angsty internal musings. I would have liked to see the book cut to the chase a lot sooner.
This Time Love is worth reading, especially if you like Elizabeth Lowell. As she so frequently does, she puts the love story against an interesting backdrop of exploration. She creates plenty of tension between her protagonists without having them resort to the nasty behavior that (in my opinion) mars some of her other works. For those keeping track, we’ve not reviewed her re-writes particularly well, but aside from the padding, this one goes in the “win” column.