Friday, October 10, 2008

Love in the Fog

How well do you know your spouse? That's the question narrator Pearlie Cook poses in Andrew Sean Greer's novel The Story of a Marriage. In the first line of the book she says: “We think we know the ones we love”. What follows that statement are Pearlie's musings about her life and marriage to her husband Holland. He has been her love since childhood, and she unfolds their story, moving forward and backward in time, her tone restrained but lyrical.

The main portion of the story takes place in the Outer Sunset section of San Francisco in the early 1950's. For those of us who live in San Francisco today, the description of the city seems both familiar and foreign. Playland-at-the-Beach was in its heyday, ladies wore hats and gloves when they took the streetcar downtown, the Seltzer Boy delivered water to porches each morning. This was the 50's of Eisenhower and post war optimism. But Greer also stirs in the darker elements of this era as well. All of the characters are touched by the effects of war, sexual repression and racism

At first Pearlie's life seems idyllic. She is married to an extraordinarily handsome man who dotes on her and their son. But an unexpected visit from a man who is part of her husband's past disrupts this tranquility. But how can I tell you more without giving away the plot? And Greer does such an elegant job of unfolding each new twist that I hate to spoil any of it. The story, which could have become melodramatic in lesser hands, is told quietly, in Pearlie's restrained but emotional voice.

Pearlie's marriage is at the center of the novel, but it is a marriage that is dramatically changed both by the pressures of outside influences and by the secrets that Holland and Pearlie carry within themselves. To tell you more would spoil it. It's a short book – read and enjoy!

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