The Sweet Charm of Distance (paperback) by Jared Glovsky

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ISBN: 9781611878356
Pages: 262

When they meet on New Year’s Eve, 1979, Jacqueline Purcell and Dalton Novak are both at a crossroads in their lives. She’s an idealistic college student about to graduate and looking to save the world at her husband’s side; he's a brooding “townie” hoping to become a writer, but anxiously watching the years slip past. They become fast friends, an unlikely pair in a precipitous time. But left unchecked, their friendship evolves into a potent attraction. Vulnerabilities are revealed, boundaries are crossed, choices are made, and what quickly becomes a secret love affair can’t help but come to an equally abrupt and unpleasant end. 

When they meet again thirty years later, they are still standing at crossroads. Dalton has become a writer of some success, but is struggling to cope with the shock of losing his wife, and the realization that wealth and fame are no panacea for turning sixty and facing something so impossible as his own mortality. Jacqueline is divorced and completely disillusioned with her chosen path. Any remnants of the idealism she once cherished have long since dried up and blown away. 

Now, in the autumn of their years, they recall the spring of 1980. Beside a secluded New Hampshire lake, they discover each other again, seeking to reconcile their past with what remains of the future, but wondering if their love is worth pursuing, or even possible, in a world that bears little resemblance to what they or their generation once knew, or could ever have imagined.


It’s nearly one in the afternoon. I walk onto the deck, stretch a little to cast off the lingering chill of the morning. I take a deep breath, drum my fingers on the wooden railing, look around for something to do, something to distract me from what has just happened. 

Jacqueline Purcell is on her way. 

I rub my face in the palms of my hands with an anxious groan. My entire existence has been turned upside down with one short and awkward phone conversation.

She called just before lunchtime, much sooner than I’d been expecting (in as far as I’d been expecting anything). I wasn’t sure what to think at first. No name appeared on the caller I.D., just Wisconsin Call. Wisconsin was the last place I’d have expected Jacqueline to be getting a hold of me from, but I have no ties to the dairy state anymore. By the second ring, I decided it had to be her.

The third ring came and I was ready to jump out of my skin. I held the phone out in front of me, struggled to catch my breath. I allowed a fourth ring to shake out any betrayal of overeagerness, then swept my thumb over the Call button and brought the phone up to my ear in a single swift motion, desperate to sound perfectly collected. 


“Hi, Dalton…?”

It was strange to hear her voice live again, placed anachronistically in the present, like an extinct animal brought back to life. It sported a certain maturity now. A softer and thinner tone spoke of the many years that had passed. But damn if it didn’t steal my breath for the vibrant color of the memories it revitalized.

Although truth be told, it was as unsettling as it was nostalgic. My love affair with Jacqueline had been a pocket of bliss in what were otherwise strange days. As a writer I deal in memories; my essential function is to capture and preserve moments of the past, and for better or worse my process engenders an appetite for reflecting on times gone by, sometimes at great length, and almost always sentimentally. 

But I don’t like thinking about the 1970s too much, and on this point, I’m not alone. Nobody I know looks back on that decade fondly. The 1960s are roundly lionized, eighties regarded with a kind of bittersweet ambivalence, dependent largely on personal circumstances. Sandwiched between them, the seventies are, for most Baby Boomers currently considering the timeline of their lives, a weird transitional stage between immortality and knowledge—a sunken living room with wood paneling on the walls, puke green carpet on the floor and jeweled macramé plant holders adorning the sight line, where America crashed after an hellacious night out, waking up the next morning not entirely sure whose apartment it was. 

When I met Jacqueline on New Year’s Eve 1979, the sum of my life experience could be found within ten miles of Tammy, Wisconsin, the little town on Lake Superior where I’d grown up—and the boundary between our worlds could not have been more apparent. I was just a local loser, a townie about to turn thirty and calling myself a writer, but not doing a hell of a lot more than washing dishes for a living and niggling the same series of short stories I’d been working on forever. I was divorced, had two children, a chilly relationship with my ex-wife at best, and although dating Suzy, which I had been for a couple years by that time, was a Godsend after my marriage ended, that relationship had stalled of late—a fact that more than anything was contributing to the malaise Jacqueline discovered me in that night.  She was much more focused in her life - an impassioned college student, primed to start her final semester. She was going to graduate with honors in May, and planned to leave Tammy forever, to go out and try to save the world with her husband.

And that’s exactly what she did.

“How are you, Dalton?” she said. “How have you been?”

“That’s an impossible question after three decades, don’t you think?”

“I know, bear with me…I’m just winging it.”

“I’ve been better,” I muttered. I was pacing up and down the short hallway between the kitchen and the living room, stealing a glance at myself in the big bronze mirror with each pass. “You?”

“More or less the same,” she replied with an uneasy laugh. “But this helps.”

“It does, huh?”

“I’m happy to hear your voice again.”

I didn’t know how to respond. I wanted to come across blasé, gripped by a shameless yet sizzling need to assert beyond a shadow of a doubt that I wasn’t cut deeply when she left me in 1980. But there was no way to do that with even a shred of intellectual honesty. I was cut, straight to the bone. To suggest otherwise would’ve been an outrageous mistruth. I scrambled for some weasel words instead, dug into my writer’s vault for something that betrayed no particular truth, good, bad or indifferent, but satisfied the moment’s need to say something.

“I’ve wondered about you.”

Painfully inadequate. Not at all what I was feeling, nor in the ballpark of what I once felt. But subtlety is a cornerstone of civility, and civility is a cornerstone of maturity. I am too old for the games I so desperately wanted to play, the guilt trip I wanted to lay on her. 

The conversation lasted only ten minutes, maybe not even, an unsatisfying allotment of time for a reunion that’s loomed so large in my mind. But brevity might have been a good thing. What followed our klutzy opening lines didn’t exactly move on cat’s feet. We relied on small talk to fill in the cracks, avoided the subject of our affair all together—not only how it ended, but that it had even taken place. It occurred to me maybe she’s not thinking about it at all. Maybe as far as she’s concerned this is just some sunset reunion, two old acquaintances shooting the breeze, feeling that damnable obligation to reminisce, nothing more. After all, she might have rocked my world back then, but what on earth had I done for her, exactly?

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