The Story of a Marriage by Andrew Sean Greer is about Pearlie and Holland, a young couple living in San Francisco in the 1950s with their invalid son, a victim of polio. They sleep in separate rooms and don’t communicate well, but Pearlie says (in reference to Holland) “I loved you like a field on fire.” Holland, having recently returned from the war, has health issues, and Pearlie, the dutiful wife, works hard to ensure nothing will upset him. She smooths over the rough edges of life and makes everything nice. So into this walks Buzz, a handsome friend from Holland’s past, who has the potential and ability to blow the lid off this happy bubble of domesticity. Soon Pearlie is faced with a wrenching decision that could change all of their lives.
The era in which this is written plays an enormous role in the book. The repressed social and cultural conditions of America in the 1950s dictated the way the characters would behave in certain situations. Pearlie’s passiveness and her unwillingness to speak with her husband about intimate details of their marriage drove me crazy, but seemed true to her character and to the times. While the whole story revolves around Holland, he’s hardly there. I wanted him to take a stand, make a statement, be present in the pages, and he really wasn’t. It’s all Pearlie and the inaccurate assumptions that she makes.
There are some big “reveals” in the book that challenged me as a reader. I’d made certain assumptions, too, which turned out to be wrong. And then I had to ask myself, why did I assume that?
It’s difficult to review this book without giving it away, so I’ll just say that I enjoyed it. I didn’t exactly love it, but I’m glad I read it. Parts of it were quite beautiful and bittersweet, some passages were exquisite. I suppose you could call it lyrical, nuanced, subtle. It’s all those things. It also made an interesting statement about the unknowable nature of even our closest relationships.
I know many people have read this recently, and if you have read it, I’d love to hear your thoughts. I’ve made a point to avoid the reviews so that they wouldn’t influence my feelings on it, but now I’m ready to know what others think. If you’ve read it, did you love it? Hate it? Somewhere in between? Let me know!
For more information on Andrew Sean Greer, visit his website HERE.