Summary and book reviews of The Story of a Marriage by Andrew Sean Greer

The Story of a Marriage

A Novel

By Andrew Sean Greer

The Story of a Marriage

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Book Summary

“We think we know the ones we love.” So Pearlie Cook begins her indirect and devastating exploration of the mystery at the heart of every relationship, how we can ever truly know another person.

It is 1953 and Pearlie, a dutiful housewife, finds herself living in the Sunset district of San Francisco, caring not only for her husband’s fragile health but also for her son, who is afflicted with polio. Then, one Saturday morning, a stranger appears on her doorstep and everything changes. All the certainties by which Pearlie has lived are thrown into doubt. Does she know her husband at all? And what does the stranger want in return for his offer of $100,000? For six months in 1953, young Pearlie Cook struggles to understand the world around her, most especially her husband, Holland.

Pearlie’s story is a meditation not only on love but also on the effects of war—with one war just over and another one in Korea coming to a close. Set in a climate of fear and repression—political, sexual, and racial—The Story of a Marriage portrays three people trapped by the confines of their era, and the desperate measures they are prepared to take to escape it. Lyrical and surprising, The Story of a Marriage looks back at a period that we tend to misremember as one of innocence and simplicity.

Excerpt
The Story of a Marriage



We think we know the ones we love.

Our husbands, our wives. We know them—we are them, sometimes; when separated at a party we find ourselves voicing their opinions, their taste in food or books, telling an anecdote that never happened to us but happened to them. We watch their tics of conversation, of driving and dressing, how they touch a sugar cube to their coffee and stare as it turns white to brown, then drop it, satisfied, into the cup. I watched my own husband do that every morning; I was a vigilant wife.

We think we know them. We think we love them. But what we love turns out to be a poor translation, a translation we ourselves have made, from a language we barely know. We try to get past it to the original, but we never can. We have seen it all. But what have we really understood?

One morning we awaken. Beside us, that familiar sleeping body in the bed: a new kind of stranger. For me, it came in 1953. That was when I stood in my ...

Please be aware that this discussion guide may contain spoilers!
One of the most widely acclaimed authors of his generation, Andrew Sean Greer is a writer of great daring and originality. "We think we know the ones we love." So Pearlie Cook begins her indirect and devastating exploration of the mystery at the heart of every relationship: How can we ever truly know another person? It is 1953 and Pearlie, a dutiful wife and mother, finds herself living in the Sunset District of San Francisco caring for her husband and child. Then one Saturday morning a stranger appears on her doorstep and everything is thrown into question—especially her marriage. Lyrical and surprising, The Story of a Marriage is a masterpiece confirming Andrew Sean Greer as "one of the most talented writers around." (...
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Reviews

BookBrowse

With prose so fine it demands slow savoring, and a plot so intriguing it demands breathless page-turning, The Story of a Marriage also serves as a gorgeous meditation on romantic partnership, the great mystery of knowing another, and what knowing someone really means. It's a novel that invites open-ended pondering, reconstructed theories, a-ha!-moments, and meaty discussions. Just when you think you've figured it out, out pops another brilliant star or passing cloud to alter the constellation. Which is, come to think of it, kind of like a marriage.   (Reviewed by Lucia Silva).

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Media Reviews
Kirkus Reviews

Greer's best feature as a novelist is his willingness to keep trying new things. Let's hope his next book avoids the worst excesses of this one.

Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. [A] a poignant account of people helpless in the throes of passion and an affirmation of the strength of the human spirit.

The San Francisco Chronicle - Troy Jollimore

Some readers are bound to become frustrated with characters who are as mysterious on the final page as they are at the beginning. I felt this, too, but my main problem was with the prose, which too often felt showy and self-consciously literary ... I soon found myself longing for a break, for a page or even a paragraph of uninterrupted landscape description or the recounting of some straightforward physical action.

Barnes and Noble

If this insight into character is among his strengths, Greer's chief weakness is a tendency is to indulge in extended ruminations

The New Yorker - John Updike

The Story of a Marriage is a sentimental, overwritten, overcalculated novel that nevertheless proves moving in the end, pulling all its prevarications and flourishes into an affirmation of the unideal everyday as it was experienced fifty years ago and, possibly, as it is even now.

The Washington Post - Carolyn See

The Story of a Marriage is just that, the chronicle of one marriage, closely and elegantly examined…a plot that deepens as surprises explode unexpectedly and terrifyingly. The Story of a Marriage is more than worth the reader's attention. It's thoughtful, complex and exquisitely written.

Los Angeles Times - Deborah Vankin

Greer's short novel feels admirably worked over -- like a long-simmered sauce. He near-brilliantly juxtaposes the nuances of love, sexual awakening and the sometimes suffocating sacrifices marriage demands against broader cultural observations about political turmoil, the physical and emotional effects of war, sexual repression and racism.

The New York Times - S. Kirk Walsh

Mr. Greer seamlessly choreographs an intricate narrative that speaks authentically to the longings and desires of his characters.

Reader Reviews
Michelle

Something missing?
I thought this book was well written and had an interesting subject matter, but I wanted to know what Holland's thoughts were. Maybe that was the point of the book - that you never really know what your partner is thinking. I think it will be a ...   Read More

Kim

The Story of a Marriage
This is certainly a very well-written, involving novel that examines the complexities of love and marriage. Greer's prose is evocative and at times almost poetic. His characters are well-drawn and three-dimensional. I do have to admit, though, ...   Read More

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Conscientious Objectors during WWII

"This is a war story. It was not meant to be. It started as a love story, the story of a marriage, but the war has stuck to everywhere like shattered glass. Not an ordinary story of men in battle, but of those who did not go to war. The cowards and shirkers; those who let an error keep them from their duty, those who saw it and hid, those who stood up and refused it, even those too young to know that one day they would rise and flee their own country... The story of those men, and of a woman in a ...

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