There is something quite remarkable about The Story of a Marriage by Andrew Sean Greer (Faber) and I think it's also quite difficult to pin down what it is.
Whether it be the underlying melancholy of Pearlie and Holland's story, the era of the book and all the nostalgia that wells up or perhaps the over-arching themes of love, marriage and all that is contained therein. Maybe it's all down to the significant after-burn of a book that leaves so many sky trails across your thinking, but as I turned the final page I had one of those 'this will be a memorable book' moments.
One of those books you know you will still recall with clarity and emotional accuracy years down the line.
The setting is 1950's America, post-war fears and insecurities are rife, the world is a suspicious and threatening place and Andrew Sean Greer sets the lives of Pearlie and Holland Cook against a backdrop of Rosenberg executions, the Korean war, segregation and inequality as if to ground the reader firmly in the seat from which he wishes them to view the proceedings.
Frequently I did feel like an onlooker, a spy even and in a book that is less than 200 pages long events have to unfold with concentrated clarity, not the diluted expansive limitless and luxurious horizons of 400 pages.
Childhood sweethearts separated by the circumstances of war, Pearlie and Holland meet up again by chance and rekindle the strange flame that was their teenage love.
Marriage, a silent dog, a child and a home follow and life seems settled as Pearlie, believing Holland to be fragile and traumatised by his wartime experiences, seeks to protect him from the darker side of life. Events do unfold with a strange sort of hushed quietness and when a stranger appears on their doorstep one morning in 1953, life for Pearlie is thrown into turmoil as she begins to deal with something that the world and she are not yet ready to understand.
To reveal much more would be to detract from the reading experience but this is a book which grapples with so much and so succinctly I was hard-pressed to put it down. Far from railing against the old slings and arrows Pearlie deals with everything in her own way, making any rush to judgement about just how she tackles this turmoil superfluous and all tempered by a real understanding of time, place and constraint cleverly evoked by Andrew Sean Greer's detail and characters.
Written with a perfect rhythm, a cadence that pulses in tune with the reader, The Story of a Marriage is one of those complete and wholly satisfying reading experiences and one of the few books I know I would read again.
If I'm still around and compus mentis, ask me about this book in ten years time and I think I may be able to remember every detail.