Click here to read reviewer Luan Gaines' take on The Story of a Marriage.
In a novel that steadily unfurls some of life's most veiled desires, Pearlie Ash looks back on her life in 1950's San Francisco, a world that is constantly "wrapped in her dreams," and remembers when she packed her bags and came from Kentucky to California to work for the War effort.
In this foggy City by the Bay, she suddenly bumps into her old childhood sweetheart, the dashing, irrevocably handsome Holland Cook.
Unleashing in Pearlie a sudden memory of home and of their time back in Kentucky like "a soft threat of the past," the two begin dating. It isn't long before Pearlie is falling in love all over again, the desire to embrace this emotionally brittle and war-damaged young man overtaking her, even as Holland's sharp-chinned aunts, "like Duchesses from Alice in Wonderland fussing with enormous hats," warn her about their nephew: "Don't do it, donít marry him."
Four years pass. They have a house in The Sunset district of San Francisco, an area of the city that seems "to fall outside of everything." Soon there
comes their son, Sonny, and together with him they try to make the best of their old property set like a rough stone among thousands of new houses put up for returning soldiers and their families.
Life for the Cooks seems peaceful, until one evening a man who looks like he's from the government appears at their doorstep, claiming to have known Holland in the War and
once been his employee. A charmer from the outset, Charlie "Buzz" Drummer almost at once begins to beguile Pearlie with stories about the younger Holland and their life together in the War.
At first Pearlie assumes that Buzz is one of her husband's old friends, an old army pal who has simply fallen away. But just as Buzz forces a present into her hand, a little turquoise box no bigger than a slice of toast, she sees the look on Holland's astonished face when he arrives home, a look burning into something like contempt, then perhaps fear.
Thrust into a trove of innuendo and suspicion, Pearlie begins to realize there is something uncomfortable about this situation even as she tries to prune away the doubts about Holland and his relationship with this enigmatic
but charming man. Even more shocking is when Buzz proposes an unusual scheme involving an offer of a sizeable sum of his wealth so that Pearlie can perhaps take tentative steps into a new world as an independent free spirit.
In prose that is as sharp as a needle, author Andrew Sean Greer gradually leads us into Pearlie's confusion and pain in a society where even the slightest hint at the truth could more than likely lead to indefinite ostracism from those around her.
This sense of insecurity and confusion about her husband and his enigmatic past comes back to confound her.
Enveloping his tale within the great events of 1953 - the election of Eisenhower, the worries about the Korean War, race issues, the deaths of the Rosenbergs, the threat of polio, the fears
of communists hidden everywhere and of Russian bombs being prepared for launch - Greer beautifully embeds Pearlie's story deep within the stultifying social, sexual and racial constraints of the time.
Although Pearlie is torn between wanting to protect Holland and his story, ironically, she still partakes in clandestine meetings with Buzz, similarly repelled and attracted by him, yet deep down intrigued by this strange man's offer of indeterminate wealth. But when she realizes that her marriage is probably going to fall apart, she's thrust into a series of desperate measures, one of which is trying to free herself by shifting her fate onto another woman.
Eventually it is war and the power of love to endure that meld so tightly together in this story about a marriage and about silence and lies, where two veiled people are forced to lead each other hand in hand towards the light. In the end, this truly talented writer seems to be saying you can never really know the person whom you choose to love and cherish.