Following one crucial day in a marriage tottering on the brink, Schwarz (All Is Vanity, 2002, etc.) shows the fragility, complexity and danger inherent in love.
In a small Wisconsin community in 1963, Walter has sex with Hattie that she claims was rape but he claims was consensual. Hattie’s pregnant friend Marie wants her husband, rising golf star Bud, to defend Hattie’s honor. But Bud believes Walter’s version so Marie—who has her own motives for revenge—uses Hattie’s former boyfriend, bookish Clark, to turn Bud against Walter, son of Bud’s major backer. Skip ahead 40 years to Madison, Wis. Jon, the son of Bud and Marie, has been having an affair with Freddi, his co-worker at an ad agency, but he still loves his landscape architect wife Ginny, Hattie and Clark’s daughter. Jon and Ginny became high school sweethearts after Ginny was injured in an accident for which Jon has always felt responsible but which Ginny has always considered her own fault. With occasional splices back to 1963, the novel covers the crucial Saturday when Jon is deciding whether to stay with Ginny or leave their long marriage for Freddi. As a step toward reconciliation, he plans to take Ginny to a music festival they’ve attended in the past, but Ginny has mixed up her dates and made other, business appointments. Frustrated and hurt, Jon ends up at the festival with Freddi, who carries her own emotional baggage, including a stalker who thinks Freddi is his girlfriend. Ginny’s business appointment is with Walter, who readers quickly suspect may be her real father instead of overprotective, doting Clark. Misconnections and misunderstandings mount as the characters—not just Jon and Ginny, but their parents, their friends and acquaintances—make choices drawing them closer and closer to inevitable disaster. While the manufactured quality of the 1963 story line is a minor problem, Schwarz’s portrait of Jon and Ginny’s loving but damaged marriage is unsparing and heartbreaking.
A true American tragedy, full of love as well as despair.