TERRY KAY'S fifth novel, ``Shadow Song,'' has everything a good romance calls for: an idyllic setting; a sensitive hero; a lost but never-forgotten love affair; and just enough conflict and suspense to keep things interesting.
But a good romance, in this case, doesn't mean great literature. ``Shadow Song'' is at times overly sentimental and far-fetched. And until the end, the author doesn't go deep enough to allow the reader to step into the shoes of the central character and see what he sees.
That said, Kay is a good storyteller and the one he tells here is, in many ways, appealing.
In the summer of 1955, 17-year-old Madison ``Bobo'' Murphy leaves the foothills of northeast Georgia to work in a hotel in the Catskill Mountains of New York. He is a boy from the South who has never heard a foreign language spoken; that summer, he meets and befriends guests who are Jewish refugees from World Wars I and II and speak only German and Yiddish. It is a summer that changes his life.
Thirty-eight years later, Bobo returns to the Catskills after the death of his friend and mentor, Avrum Feldman. Avrum was a 106-year-old eccentric who spent every summer at the Pine Hill Inn to be near to an opera singer named Amelita Galli-Curci. For much of his life, Avrum loved the singer from afar; he claimed he could hear her voice ringing throughout the Shandaken Valley. Though everyone else thought Avrum was certifiably crazy, Bobo always believed in him and was touched by the the depth of his love for Galli-Curci.
Avrum's death isn't the only reason for Bobo's return to the Catskills, however. He has come before, on a regular pilgrimage that he makes without his wife, Carolyn. He has come previously not only to see Avrum, who retired there, but to visit the ghosts of the past and, at least subconsciously, to look for what has been missing in his life since the summer of 1955.
What is missing is Amy Lourie, the most beautiful girl Bobo ever encountered. Amy came to the Catskills each summer with her parents. In 1955, Bobo and Amy fell in love, even though he had made promises to Carolyn who was then his high-school sweetheart, and despite the fact that they were told it could never work because Amy was Jewish and he was not. Theirs was a love Avrum said was meant to be, much like his feelings for Galli-Curci.
Amy's last words as they parted at the end of the summer were, ``The only thing that's over is the summer. I may never see you again, Bobo, but we're not over. Not us.'' Thirty-eight years later, when they see each other for the first time at Avrum's funeral, they realize the truth of those words. Whether or not they seize the opportunity for a second chance is a question left for the final pages of the book.
Kay, whose previous novel was the popular ``To Dance With the White Dog,'' touches on a variety of contemporary issues in writing this old-fashioned love story. The issues are important ones, yet Kay only skims the surface in addressing them. Some of the story's themes, such as religious differences in relationships, seem more like an aside. Even marriage and marital infidelity aren't given much thought beyond sentiments such as, ``Marriage becomes predictable, a kind of routine that floats like a stationary buoy on moving waters.''
Where ``Shadow Song'' works is in its telling of a love affair, not so much between two people, but with a place and time. The hotel that Bobo remembers as elegant is now shabby and nearly empty. But the memories are everywhere, and Kay skillfully makes them seem real. Though he falters on the larger themes, the simpler details ultimately make this a romantic tale worth reading.