Title: The Story of a Marriage
Author: Andrew Sean Greer
Genre: Contemporary fiction, literary fiction
Rating: 3 out of 5 stars
Source: Audiobook from the public library
Audiobook reader: S. Epatha Merkerson
First line: We think we know the ones we love.
It is 1953, and Pearlie is an African-American housewife caring for her polio-afflicted son and her husband, Holland. Before their marriage, Holland’s aunts warned Pearlie of his weak heart, and Pearlie spends her time protecting him from anything upsetting. One day, Holland’s former employer, Buzz Droomer, shows up on their doorstep, and Pearlie is left wondering if she ever knew her husband at all.
The Story of a Marriage is a small, deceptively simple book that is exactly what the title says it is: the story of a marriage. Pearlie and Holland were high school sweethearts who lost track of each other when Holland went to war. They meet again after the war in San Francisco, get married, and have a son. Their life is uncomplicated. Pearlie stays home and cares for the house and their child; Holland works all day. In the evenings, they listen to the news and Groucho Marx together and have a nightcap. Occasionally, they visit Holland’s aunts, two older ladies who love to gossip.
At the heart of Pearlie and Holland’s story is this question: how well do we know the ones we love? I can’t tell you more about this book without giving away plot points, and you’ll want to go into this one unspoiled. The author does a wonderful job of getting inside Pearlie’s head – it is very unusual to read a book in first person where the narrator is female and the author is male and have it sound natural, but Greer pulls it off.
As good as the writing is, however, I was left feeling a bit cold. I wanted to know how the story turned out, but it didn’t excite me or involve me emotionally, and I think the main reason is that I had a very hard time relating to Pearlie and the choices she made and actions she took during the course of the book.
Audio notes: S. Epatha Merkerson became Pearlie in the audio edition; I’m not sure I would have pushed through to finish had I been reading it in print. Listening to it read in Pearlie’s voice was like having her tell me her story in person – the producers could not have found a better narrator.