In this elegant but disconcertingly episodic novel, a husband pessimistic about Earth's future resists his wife's pleas to commit to their union by having children.
As in her first book, Now You See It (1991), Nixon examines her protagonists’ lives in a sequence of interrelated stories that cumulatively should compose a novel. The result, though, is an awkward hybrid that never fully illuminates the marriage of violinist Margy and microbiologist Webster. Individual chapters are too self-contained to satisfactorily cohere into a full-length whole. Characters appear once, like the school friends in “Women Come and Go,” then never return. The narrative hopscotches through the years ahead, leaving long stretches of time unaccounted for. In college, Margy sleeps with WASP Henry, but he breaks it off when she learns she’s pregnant, and in “A Solo Performance,” Margy has an abortion. Cut to “Season of Sensuality” in Venice, where Margy is vacationing with a fellow member of the Chicago Symphony, trying to get over an affair with an abusive pianist. Next, in “After the Beep,” she spends a summer house-sitting in Bolinas, a coastal village in California where she meets Webster, who feels so passionately about Native Americans, the environment, and Caucasians’ depredations that he has taken an Indian name and given up ``white man's time, the telephone and news, hamburgers and pizza, everything that came in plastic.'' As he works on his dissertation, the two fall in love and marry; Webster moves to Chicago. Married life brings its usual conflicts: Webster finds Margy extravagant and wasteful, while she is often irked by his fanaticism (he won’t even kill a housefly). But as Margy's biological clock ticks away, the biggest point of contention becomes Webster's refusal to have children.
An ambitious portrait of a bittersweet contemporary marriage with a particularly contemporary problem, but the impact, unfortunately, is blunted by the elliptical format.