After his breakout book Confessions of Max Tivoli, Andrew Sean Greer is about to enter the front of the pack with his forthcoming Story of a Marriage.
San Francisco of the early Fifties is a town both both on the cusp of great change and still under the shadow of WW 2.
The novels opening line, "We think we know the ones we love."
foretells a tale of secrets born in a time of war and kept in a more rigid time. Pearlie is a transplanted mid-Western girl who marries Holland Cook, her hometown sweetheart after they run into each other in San Francisco after he leaves military service. They are presented by Greer as a typical married couple at the outset, but quickly their race, Holland's mysterious sisters, and most importantly, the arrival of Mr. Charles "Buzz" Drumer, on the couples doorstep.
Buzz is an army buddy of Holland, now wealthy from his trade. He makes Pearlie an offer that sets in motion a painful and at the same time almost cleansing examination each characters hearts and the secrets exposed by Buzz's arrival.
Reviewers have noted, quite correctly that a lesser writer would have turned the book into a Brokeback Mountain offramp.
But Greer is a lyrical and declarative writer whose gifts around how to build and move a story are so finely honed that even tried and true devices come off as fresh and almost daring.
These characters being knocked off their shoes mirrors a time when the Rosenberg's face execution and the Red Scare and Joseph McCarthy hang over America like a choking fog.
Greer examines race during this explosive time with an obliqueness that befits the novel and stays consistent with the politics of the time around the topic.
Though Pearlie is the narrator, it's the character of Holland who carries most of the wounds around this emotionally complex novel. He has the most baggage and it's his relationship with Buzz that predates Pearlie that drives the novel.
"Pearlie says: “This is a war story. It was not meant to be. It started as a love story, the story of a marriage, but the war has stuck to it everywhere like shattered glass.”
Indeed, most everything shatters in The Story of a Marriage, but it's what stays together that gives the novel an uncommon strength, and Andrew Sean Greer sets a high bar here, and clears it easily.
It's a novel to be read twice; both for a compelling narrative and the multitude of sharp observations and heartbreaking sentences.
Posted by Dave