The Story of a Marriage by Andrew Sean Greer

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The Story of a Marriage by Andrew Sean Greer

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Category: Literary Fiction
Rating: 5/5
Reviewer: Lesley Mason
Reviewed by Lesley Mason
Summary: When a friend from Holland Cooke's past turns up on his doorstep, his carefully constructed world is shaken to the foundations. Echoing to the repeated phrase we think we know the ones we love, the story of this marriage shows how untrue that is. It is a story of love and sacrifice, but also of secrets and lies. Tightly controlled, elegantly told.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 208 Date: July 2008
Publisher: Faber and Faber
ISBN: 978-0571240982

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An Oprah Tantalizing Beach Read 2009

If any doubters remain amongst your cohorts as to whether a man can write convincingly from the perspective of a woman, urge them to read The Story of a Marriage for the final definitive absolute: yes.

We think we know the ones we love is the echo that haunts this tale which is, as it says, simply the story of one marriage. How it came to be, what it endured, how and why it ended… and what it left behind.

The phrase itself is repeated at intervals, and its unspoken corollary is that in fact we have no idea at all. No matter who we are, nor what kind of love. We remember some things, forget others, deny what is too painful to be acknowledged. We weave our fantasies so solidly that they must have substance, sometimes perhaps so solidly, so intricately, that they do.

In 1953, out by the ocean in the Sunset district of San Francisco, Pearlie Cook is taking care of her family. Living a more-or-less ordinary life of dinners and dishes, laundry and housework, looking out for her husband's fragile heart, and finding somehow the necessary to deal with the aftermath of her son's bout of polio. It's not the easiest of lives, but she believes she is happy.

Until she discovers how little she knows of her husband. A stranger turns up at her door, suave, sophisticated, asking for help, but proving to be a friend from her husband's past. As Buzz Drumer steps into her life, he brings with him a wind of change she could never have envisaged. Her husband, Holland, it would seem is not entirely the man she thought she had known since she was a teenager before the war.

Looking back on those times with the wisdom of age as she narrates the story, Pearlie depicts the true feeling of the early fifties. It was not the time of innocence we like to imagine now… but a time of yet another war, this time with atom bombs, still a time of air raid sirens and long waits for an all clear. It was a time of fear: of the communists, of the Jews, of the coloureds, of women. And out of that fear, it was a time of repression.

It was a complicated world. Even for those with a home and a family and a dog, and a job, and a life that seems to be all that it needs to be.

A lyrical and innocent rendition of a world that was anything but, is only part of Greer's achievement in this short wonderful novel. The rest is a telling of less ordinary lives. As the unforgiveable past catches up with the strained present, the plot twists come as a genuine surprise. Slowly, and not too often, but sudden enough to make you catch your breath and wonder what next… and is this how it really was?

Quite probably, one feels.

It is a closed story with a cast of maybe half a dozen or so, but set as it is against the global stage of the 1950s, the birth-pangs of the civil rights movement, the Committee investigations, one wife's electrocution for not deterring her husband… and another's brave stance in a court of law…it feels anything but claustrophobic. On the contrary Greer manages to create the feeling that although this is the story of one marriage, the kinds of secrets and lies it entails were not, after all, so very different from other secrets, other lies, other marriages the whole world over.

At one point, our narrator tells us that maybe this is just another war story. It wasn't meant to be. It was meant to be a love story.

Of course it is both.

I'd like to thank the publishers for sending a copy to The Bookbag.

If this book appeals to you then we think you might also enjoy The Road Home by Rose Tremain.

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Buy The Story of a Marriage by Andrew Sean Greer at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy The Story of a Marriage by Andrew Sean Greer at Amazon.co.uk Amazon currently charges £2.99 for standard delivery for orders under £20, over which delivery is free.
Buy The Story of a Marriage by Andrew Sean Greer at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy The Story of a Marriage by Andrew Sean Greer at Amazon.com.

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