From the book jacket:
After more than half a century of marriage,
Dorothy and George are embarking on their first
journey abroad together. Three decades younger,
Jan and Annemieke are taking their last, as
illness and incompatibility bring their unhappy
union to an end. At first the luxury of a
Caribbean resort is no match for the well-worn
patterns of domestic life. Then the couples'
paths cross, and a series of surprises ensues -
a disappearance and an assault, most
dramatically, but also a teapot tempest of
passions, slights, misunderstandings, and small
awakenings that punctuate a week in which each
pair struggles to come to terms with what's been
keeping them apart.
Comment: Becoming Strangers is a highly enjoyable read, not least for Dean's exceptional ability to turn a phrase starting with her opening sentence: "Before he'd had cancer he'd been bored with life. Since he'd taken dying seriously, he'd been busy..."
This opening sentence sets the central theme: How to come to terms with the life one has created especially when it's too late to change it?
As one reviewer observes. "Is there any sadness more profound than the realization that your life, as it draws to a close, has been under used, maybe even ill used? For those not staring directly at death, the question stands: how do we cope with who we are, who we no longer want to be, or who we no longer want to be with?"
Dean's acutely observed small scale action centers on two couples: Dorothy and George, a working class British couple who feel totally out of place at such an up market Caribbean spa resort (the holiday is a misguided gift from their granddaughter, who earns a fortune as a London banker), and the DeGroots, a sophisticated middle-aged couple from Belgium spending their last vacation together (the vacation is a gift from their sons). The DeGroots have nothing in common with Dorothy and George (or with each other for that matter) but circumstances throw the unhappy couples together as each individual battles his or her own demons: Jan's recognition that he has lost his fight against cancer and his regrets for his loveless marriage; Annemieke's fear of old age and overwhelming loneliness; George's denial of Dorothy's Alzheimer's, and Dorothy's wish that George would stop denying that there is something wrong with her.
Dean's ability to portray the tragic-comedy of everyday lives with empathic but laser-sharp wit sets Becoming Strangers way above most first novels, and presages a wonderful future for this talented author.
This review was originally published in April 2006, and has been updated for the January 2007 paperback release. Click here to go to this issue.
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