Who contributes what to an initially happy, later failing marriage, asks British novelist Rogers (The Testament of Jessie Lamb, 2012, etc.), and can this marriage be saved?
In the beginning, Conrad and Eleanor Evanson seemed to have worked out the perfect relationship—"soon everyone would wake up and realize what they were missing, that it was possible to have everything, everything at once without anyone making any kind of sacrifice at all, and without exploiting anybody." That was when they were young, after Con persuaded El not to have an abortion but to marry him instead, and they found a way to be equal parents with successful careers as scientists, too. But now, decades later, after four children, affairs, divergences, and compromises, the state of the marriage is far from triumphant. And then, suddenly, Con, away in Germany for a conference, disappears. Rogers’ coolly analytical novel is not a thriller (although there’s one threatening character). Instead, the reader follows Con’s flight to Bologna and begins to understand the reasons for it, while also observing El and her children’s various responses to Con’s inexplicable absence. Rogers’ interest is in the collusive equilibrium of marriage—the power balance, the secrets, betrayals, and shifts—but she also uses the couple’s different careers in science, particularly Con's research into immunosuppressants and transplant surgery, which involves live-animal experiments, to consider larger dilemmas of conscience and conduct. Heavily reliant on flashbacks and soul-searching and featuring a rather chilly cast of characters, the novel is more reflective than dynamic. Its strengths are the author’s intelligence, her avoidance of sentimentality, and the honest scrutiny she brings to bear on how intimate adult relationships age and settle.
A nuanced, pragmatic look at the long-married state.