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The Story of a Marriageby Andrew Sean Greer
Synopses & Reviews
From the bestselling author of The Confessions of Max Tivoli, a love story full of secrets and astonishments set in 1950s San Francisco.
"We think we know the ones we love." So Pearlie Cook begins her indirect and devastating exploration of the mystery at the heart of every relationship, how we can ever truly know another person.
It is 1953 and Pearlie, a dutiful housewife, finds herself living in the Sunset district of San Francisco, caring not only for her husband's fragile health but also for her son, who is afflicted with polio. Then, one Saturday morning, a stranger appears on her doorstep and everything changes. All the certainties by which Pearlie has lived are thrown into doubt. Does she know her husband at all? And what does the stranger want in return for his offer of $100,000? For six months in 1953, young Pearlie Cook struggles to understand the world around her, most especially her husband, Holland.
Pearlie's story is a meditation not only on love but also on the effects of war — with one war just over and another one in Korea coming to a close. Set in a climate of fear and repression — political, sexual, and racial — The Story of a Marriage portrays three people trapped by the confines of their era, and the desperate measures they are prepared to take to escape it. Lyrical and surprising, The Story of a Marriage looks back at a period that we tend to misremember as one of innocence and simplicity.
Like Ford Madox Ford's The Good Soldier, Andrew Sean Greer's novel is a narrative tour de force that confirms him as "one of the most talented writers around" (Michael Chabon).
"As he demonstrated in the imaginative The Confessions of Max Tivoli, Greer can spin a touching narrative based on an intriguing premise. Even a diligent reader will be surprised by the revelations twisting through this novel and will probably turn back to the beginning pages to find the oblique hints hidden in Greer's crystalline prose. In San Francisco in 1953, narrator Pearlie relates the circumstances of her marriage to Holland Cook, her childhood sweetheart. Pearlie's sacrifices for Holland begin when they are teenagers and continue when the two reunite a few years later, marry and have an adored son. The reappearance in Holland's life of his former boss and lover, Buzz Drumer, propels them into a triangular relationship of agonizing decisions. Greer expertly uses his setting as historical and cultural counterpoint to a story that hinges on racial and sexual issues and a climate of fear and repression. Though some readers may find it overly sentimental, this is a sensitive exploration of the secrets hidden even in intimate relationships, a poignant account of people helpless in the throes of passion and an affirmation of the strength of the human spirit. (May)" Publishers Weekly (Starred Review) (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)
"'The Story of a Marriage' is just that, the chronicle of one marriage, closely and elegantly examined. It's set in San Francisco's Sunset District, an area of tract houses put up quickly in the '50s after World War II, but the story spans the war itself and continues until roughly the present. Considering that Andrew Sean Greer is the author of the wildly imaginative 'Confessions of Max Tivoli,' whose... Washington Post Book Review (read the entire Washington Post review) hero ages backward, and which is written in a burnished prose that John Updike compared to Nabokov's, it will come as no surprise that the new novel is built on several narrative surprises that cannot (or should not) be revealed. So this will be a hard review to write. It's safe to say, though, that the book's concerns include the nature of wartime heroism: Is it more courageous to go off and fight because the authorities tell you to, or is it braver to refrain, even if that's not the popular thing to do? What if you're just not up for war? What if you don't feel like it? What if you know that you've been designated as cannon fodder from the very beginning? Or what if you're drafted against your will, sent out in harm's way and gravely wounded? Do you qualify as a hero then? 'The Story of a Marriage' looks at these questions from the vantage points of both World War II and Vietnam, and the answers as well as the suppositions are fascinating. But that's only one aspect of this story. The real question is: What's stronger in the long run: the languid, predictable, often quite dull rituals of domesticity (the school lunches made day after day, the clean linen hung out to dry, the double whiskeys drunk together when the husband comes home day after day) or the passionate, untidy, sometimes violent love that shakes us to our bones and upends families like a 10-point earthquake? Think about this in terms of 'Casablanca,' certainly not the earliest prototype but perhaps the one that lingers uppermost in our minds. Who would be better for Ilsa in the long run: Rick, who glowers in his glittering nightclub, pitching fits at the mere sound of Ilsa's name; or Victor Laszlo, who dresses in white, walks through the narrative with the innocence of a bride and asks Ilsa to stand by him as he helps build a better world? Consider all the petulant wives (or husbands) who have inaugurated the sour Chapter 2 of their own marriages by announcing — as though they've invented the idea — 'I still love you, of course, but I'm not in love with you!' In other words, don't expect any fun anymore in our whole life together! It's nothing but clean rolled socks and meatloaf from here on in! 'The Story of a Marriage' is told from a slightly different perspective. In the year 1953, Pearlie Cook has already been married to the handsome Holland for a few years. She describes him in the expected ways: 'He kissed me goodbye every morning at eight and hello every evening at six; he worked hard to provide for us all; he had nearly lost his life for his country.' Pearlie and Holland live in the Sunset District at a time when the milkman and the iceman still deliver. It is a time still so un-modern that their only son has come down with polio. Pearlie does her wifely work and, despite her son's illness, loves her life. Then, one fateful afternoon, a man knocks on the door. Buzz Drummer — rich, charming, handsome — comes back into their lives. It's like Gatsby returning to claim Daisy for his own, or Bogart knocking on Bergman's door as she mixes martinis at the end of the day. 'Let's not just remember Paris! Let's grab a plane and go there right now!' Buzz makes a love-struck offer and gives the couple six months to think about it. He'll provide the one who stays home with the child his considerable fortune, more than enough to put the poor boy with polio through the best schools. Buzz, in turn, will be able to run off with the other partner, the one he has loved for years. Strangely, Pearlie and Holland never speak about this offer directly. This is plausible in part because their marriage has been woven through with unstated facts, events remembered by them both but better left unstated, circumstances that — when you think about them — become as plain as day, so the best way to deal with them is not to think about them at all. Marriage or, indeed, any human alliance, the author seems to say, is jury-rigged at best. And when personal love becomes connected to a set of larger ideals like patriotism, sometimes lies outweigh the truth. Underneath valor may lie venality or cowardice, but much more often despair and deep grief. This is a plot that deepens as surprises explode unexpectedly and terrifyingly. 'The Story of a Marriage' is more than worth the reader's attention. It's thoughtful, complex and exquisitely written." Reviewed by Carolyn See, who can be reached at www.carolynsee.com, Washington Post Book World (Copyright 2006 Washington Post Book World Service/Washington Post Writers Group)
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"This is a haunting book of breathtaking beauty and restraint. Greer's tone-perfect prose conjures an unforgettable woman who exists both within and somehow above the stifling class, racial and sexual constraints of 1950s America — and who must unravel the great mystery of her place within it." Dave Eggers
"Andrew Sean Greer, one of the most talented young writers of our time, has written a beautiful and moving tale of war, sacrifice, race, and motherhood. But ultimately, as with The Confessions of Max Tivoli, this is a book about love, and it is a marvel to watch Greer probe the mysteries of love to such devastating effect." Khaled Hosseini
"Mr. Greer seamlessly choreographs an intricate narrative that speaks authentically to the longings and desires of his characters." New York Times
"[A] finely structured whodunnit about the confusion inherent in matters of the heart....Greer doles out revelations with grace and precision — there are surprises in this novel, and it is best to surrender to them without preconceptions." Miami Herald
"Greer's best feature as a novelist is his willingness to keep trying new things. Let's hope his next book avoids the worst excesses of this one." Kirkus Reviews
From the bestselling author of The Confessions of Max Tivoli, a love story full of secrets and astonishments set in fifties San Francisco
"We think we know the ones we love.” So Pearlie Cook begins her
indirect and devastating exploration of the mystery at the heart of every relationship: how we can ever truly know another person.
It is 1953 and Pearlie, a dutiful young housewife, finds herself living in the Sunset District in San Francisco, caring not only for her husbands fragile health but also for her son, who is afflicted with polio. Then, one Saturday morning, a stranger appears on her doorstep, and everything changes. All the certainties by which Pearlie has lived and tried to protect her family are thrown into doubt. Does she know her husband at all? And what does the stranger want in return for his offer of a hundred thousand dollars? For six months in 1953 young Pearlie Cook struggles to understand the world around her, and most especially her husband, Holland.
Pearlies story is a meditation not only on love but also on the effects of war, with one war recently over and another coming to a close. Set in a climate of fear and repression-political, sexual, and racial-The Story of a Marriage portrays three people trapped by the confines of their era, and the desperate measures they are prepared to take to escape it. Lyrical and surprising, The Story of a Marriage looks back at a period that we tend to misremember as one of innocence and simplicity.
A Today Show Summer Reads Pick
A Washington Post Book of the Year
"We think we know the ones we love." So Pearlie Cook begins her indirect, and devastating exploration of the mystery at the heart of every relationship--how we can ever truly know another person.
It is 1953 and Pearlie, a dutiful young housewife, finds herself living in the Sunset District in San Francisco, caring not only for her husband's fragile health, but also for her son, who is afflicted with polio. Then, one Saturday morning, a stranger appears on her doorstep, and everything changes. Lyrical, and surprising, The Story of a Marriage is, in the words of Khaled Housseini, "a book about love, and it is a marvel to watch Greer probe the mysteries of love to such devastating effect."
About the Author
Andrew Sean Greer is the bestselling author of The Confessions of Max Tivoli (FSG, 2004), the story collection How It Was for Me, and the novel The Path of Minor Planets. He lives in San Francisco, California.
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