I've remarked at times that sometimes I will read an article in the New Yorker about a subject that would not normally interest me simply because the writing is good. After reading a few books and listening to a few audiobooks that were just prosaic, I recognize what I like in a book when I finally find it. I picked up Andrew Sean Greer's novel The Story of a Marriage when I couldn't find anything else I knew I wanted to read on the audiobook shelf at the library. The cover wasn't even appealing, and I had expectations, never having heard of the book before.
What I found was good writing, good story-telling. Told by Pearlie Cook, the story begins in 1953 in San Francisco, where she lives with her husband Holland, their boy Sonny, and Lyle, their bark less dog. Although the narrator tells the reader at the beginning that her husband has died, since most of the story is revealed through flashbacks, it's easy to ignore that significant bit of knowledge and to get lost in the tale.
Much of the charm of the story is the way Pearlie reveals just enough, never too much information at a time. As a result, sometimes she surprises. Sometimes, she repeats a powerful passage, familiar enough to work like an echo in the reader's memory.
Born in Kentucky, Pearlie fell for Holland twice--first at childhood sweethearts in Kentucky and a second time when fate arranges a chance meeting in San Francisco after the war. The characters--even the minor ones--are beautifully drawn. Most interesting to me was the way the author makes Buzz Groomer, the antagonist, human and sympathetic.
Greer also manages to paint a historical background, taking the characters through the Korean War, the Rosenberg trial and execution, desegregation and civil rights, and Vietnam war. These details add richness to the story without ever getting in the way of what is, after all, simply the story of a marriage.
I've read reviews filled with spoilers--and yes, even in this subtle story, there are some surprises. Instead, I'd rather let the readers encounter revelations as I did. Most of all, though, I encourage readers to slow down and pay attention to the author's use of language as Pearlie not only learns about her marriage and her husband,but, at last, herself.