A woman discovers her husband is having an affair with her old college roommate. Can this marriage—kids, depression, and all—be saved?
In college, Jane was the timid, unassertive type while Bonnie was the sarcastic extrovert with an affinity for bad-news men. An opposites-attract dynamic made them fast friends—they bonded immediately after Jane’s dispiriting loss of her virginity at a frat party. In adulthood, though, things are complicated. Bonnie uses her quick wit as a crisis intervention counselor for the Chicago Police, but her best romantic prospect is a bartender with a coke habit. Jane is married to a doctor, Eric, and has a son and another baby on the way, but she’s going off the rails emotionally, experiencing rapturous mental breaks (“oh lovely pure nothing”) that may be epilepsy or, she thinks, a curious capacity for premonition. Either way, Jane’s baffling suicide attempt pushes Eric and Bonnie into each other’s arms and prompts Jane to wonder if such an arrangement might actually be good for the marriage. Thompson (The Witch, 2014, etc.) works to elevate this story beyond its familiar infidelity-in-the-burbs setup by avoiding pat moral judgments; she’s more concerned with the dynamics that prompt affairs than thundering about consequences. And both Jane and Bonnie are well-crafted characters, reflecting Thompson’s consistent knack for capturing the emotional seas within seemingly conventional middle-class Midwesterners. (She’s also excellent at depicting children, so often an afterthought in such novels.) But Thompson seems at a loss to figure out what to do with the characters after Jane’s breakdown; Jane makes an unpersuasive and contrived romantic decision as Thompson abandons the more mystical element of Jane’s mindset and her odd musings “about the death of the self and the all-encompassing spirit.” Good for her, but less good for a novel that slackens into familiarity.
An overly domesticated marriage-gone-bad story.