By Ben Greenman
(Harper Perennial, Paperback, 9780061990519, April 2013, 288pp.)
The Short of It:
A fractured, splintered view of a marriage in decline.
The Rest of It:
When I first saw the title of this book I was immediately reminded of California earthquake faults and how they slip and slide every ten years to give us a good jolt of reality. Oddly enough, that’s kinda what this book is about. Marriage, on the brink of disaster and how the fissures eventually become full-on cracks if you let them run their course.
William and Louisa Day live in suburban bliss. Nice house, great neighborhood, interesting neighbors. One afternoon, while hosting one of his famous parties, William realizes that Louisa hasn’t come out to greet their guests. After trying to juggle his meet and greet duties along with cooking the food they are about to eat he goes in search of Louisa and finds her locked in their junk room. Forced to talk to her through the door, she seems okay but refuses to come out and only comes out after her drunk brother shows up and causes quite the scene.
Shortly after the party, Louisa tells William that she’s bought a plot of land and wants him to build her a new house. This innocent and somewhat far-fetched request triggers introspection but when an old flame of William’s moves into their neighborhood and rekindles what they started long ago, William’s not really sure what he wants.
The book opens with the party scene and within just a few pages, I was hooked. William is one of those funny, sarcastic guys that people don’t really pay attention to. His humor, if you can call it that, inserts itself innocently but the people on the other side of it rarely pick-up on his sarcasm. As he plods through life, you willingly follow along because although he’s a cheater and seems clueless about what his wife wants, he’s somehow more human than say the “suits” that he has to deal with at work or the guy next door or down the street.
As much as I love stories like this one, I had some trouble with Louisa. In one sense, she appears to be the voice of reason but her odd behavior, hiding behind closed doors and hoarding junk mail made me wonder if she was a little off. The other thing that bothered me is that William and Louisa hardly interact at all. Their interactions are short and abbreviated and her comments about anything had a throwaway quality to them. As if she was saying them just to say something. Perhaps, that is what a marriage in decline is like, but there was no heat… no tension. I expected there to be lots of it given the fact that their marriage was on the line. To me, they were looking at each other through a broken mirror. Their images greatly exaggerated and skewed.
After finishing the book, I concluded that all the women in the book seemed a little off. I couldn’t relate to any of them and found myself relating more to William which surprised me. As negative as that may sound, I still enjoyed the book quite a bit. Greenman’s take on suburbia was spot on. That party scene alone won me over and the wry humor made what could have been a very depressing novel, somewhat comical.
It’s not perfect, but what marriage is? If you’re like me and want to read something a little different this summer, give this one a try. It will give you a lot to think about.
Source: Sent to me by the publisher via Edelweiss
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