An idyllic marriage is tested in this idiosyncratic examination of how the experience of love, its absence and its presence, can shape lives.
Gaige was honored as one of the National Book Foundation’s “5 [exceptional authors] under 35” for her debut, O My Darling (2005). Her second time around again showcases a gift for capturing the simultaneous proximity and distance in a relationship. But this darker story connects the romance of coupledom to the territory of madness. The lovers, Alice and Charlie, are both the products of their upbringings: she, the bookish daughter of a disappointed single mother; he, the likable, talented golden child of “wonderful, clear presences.” Charlie’s ambition—to be “good”—leads him to a career in social work, but his innocent impulses cause problems in his charmed life, which has been further graced by the birth of twin girls. Her husband’s staying at work late leaves Alice lonely and mistrustful, while overstepping professional boundaries imperils both Charlie’s clients and his career. Mania stalks the characters in many forms, some abstract, others tangible. The sense of threat that hangs over the proceedings is fed by Charlie’s grandmother’s premonition of violence, yet in a gathering whirlwind of a conclusion, the author dodges expectations, while reaching grandly for a multiple vision of love and restoration.
Gaige’s off-beat orientation, wit and piercing insights stand up to her first novel, this time in a more sober and less tidy narrative that offers greater breadth in exchange for sweetness.