So Long at the Fair
Christina Schwarz
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Buy *So Long at the Fair* by Christina Schwarz online

So Long at the Fair
Christina Schwarz
272 pages
July 2009
rated 4 of 5 possible stars

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In this delicately written journey on the nature of marriage, Jon Kepilkowski works at an advertising agency and has been has been married to Ginny, a landscape artist, for much of his adult life. Over the years, theirs has become a rather predictable marriage with Ginny haunted by a terrible accident that she feels has inhibited her ability to have children.

Jon blames himself for the tragedy, even as the doctors have assured her that one day she will be able to have children. This knowledge, however, does little to appease her sense of insecurity in herself and in Jon’s commitment to her and their marriage.

Jon thinks Ginny is overreacting to the assumed prospects of having a child, but lately the issue has caused a rift between them; much of their domestic existence is now defined by petty squabbles. It is Jon who steps out of the bounds of the relationship, falling into an affair with his work colleague, Freddi, mostly because he wants to feel connected to his early sexual impulses.

When Jon conceives of the plan to spend the day with Ginny at Summerfest, a local rock concert cum county fair, he frantically hopes they can revisit a scene from their youth, a time when they were so vigorously happy. When Ginny responds by telling him she’s booked up with appointments, once again Jon is left feeling unmoored.

Basically a good man if a bit misguided, Jon resolves to finish it with Freddi - he loves Ginny, and the thought of losing her fills him with a dark and breathless panic. But Jon is in thrall to Freddi’s charisma and offers to take her to the Summerfest instead. Of course, Freddi jumps at the chance. Although she’s spent months content to stay the other woman, she still holds a glimmer of hope that only she is Jon’s "real love."

Central to Christina Schwarz’s story are the subtle shifts and changes that occur in these relationships as the day at the Summerfest progresses. The author attempts to dissect the dynamics of marital infidelity and betrayal with a mechanical ease. Ginny is reluctant to confront the truth, remaining ignorant of Jon’s philandering, yet she also detects an irritability in him and the fact that he’s less focused on her.

Jon frantically hides behind the growing problems of his marriage as Freddi, her resentment at the situation rising like a “geyser in her chest,” realizes she cannot count on anything from Jon, least of all a lifetime of commitment.

In what comes across as one of the more confusing subplots, Schwarz creates a backstory of Jon’s mother, Marie, and her affair with Walter Fleisher, a developer who now owns the Meadowwood Golf Course. The events that took place in 1963 have allowed Marie to keep alive an ember of hatred for what she’d once done willingly and what Walter did to her.

As both past and present unfold, a number of secondary characters circle the world of Jon, Ginny and Freddi, sometimes offering advice and consolation and at other times judgment, especially the unstable Ethan, who harbors a treacherous obsession for beautiful Freddi. Ultimately it is Jon’s carelessness that both physically and metaphorically scars him and Ginny, even as he comes to acknowledge his one true love in an unexpectedly violent climax.

Regardless of the convoluted structure around which this compelling story unfolds, the author has her characters - in both 1963 and the present - reluctantly confronting the heavy burdens of marriage with its complex fabric of understandings and misunderstandings, of its dependable support and its casual betrayal. In the end, So Long at the Fair is most notable for exposing the complicated and multi-faceted layers that sometimes make up contemporary human relationships.

Originally published on Curled Up With A Good Book at © Michael Leonard, 2008

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