Ayer’s (Dead Drunk, 2014, etc.) short story collection centers on Margaret Wollaston and her prolonged struggle with her alcoholic husband, George.
Each story unfolds like a chapter in Margaret’s life, starting with her pre-marriage relationship to George in “Finding the Body.” She meets a widow whose loss leads Margaret to consider leaving George, a recurring theme due to the man’s rampant alcoholism. She is supportive when cops have trouble believing George’s claim of a burglar’s assault (“Navigator’s Wife”) but later recognizes a problem when he drives home drunk (“Walking in a Ditch”). Margaret is a sincere, empathetic character; a palpable love for George makes her hesitancy to separate or divorce plausible even after tumultuous decades as a couple. She likewise affords him opportunity to change time and time again; in “Broken Axle,” she utters her oft-repeated sentiment: “If you stop drinking I’ll come back.” “Buster,” set at a club both Margaret and George frequent, is the book’s sole deviation. It’s an amusing tale in which the titular character finds his new manager gig less than ideal. But even the collection’s longest story, the title novella, with George as protagonist, keeps the spotlight on Margaret. In it, George escapes his loveless marriage by isolating himself on an island. From his exile, however, he can still see his house and remains shackled by insecurities, like suspecting that Margaret is having an affair with his friend MacDougall. In other engrossing stories, Margaret endures a volatility between her father and brother-in-law and another husband, Ike, who may be no better than George. Ayer’s prose coats her tales in emotion and atmosphere. In “Button Cottage,” for example, Margaret’s aunt’s maid, Kate, recalls an early romantic experience: “Blackberry canes arched across the low doorway, sunlight slanted through the dusty window, and the old shed smelled of fertilizer.” The book is furthermore a companion piece to the author’s preceding novel, a murder mystery featuring Margaret and George.
Moody, polished, and indelible.