Scenes from a marriage, sometimes lyrical, sometimes philosophically rich, sometimes just puzzling.
If Rainer Maria Rilke had written a novel about marriage, it might look something like this: a series of paragraphs, seldom exceeding more than a dozen lines, sometimes without much apparent connection to the text on either side. The story is most European, too; says the narrator, “I spent my afternoons in a city park, pretending to read Horace. At dusk, people streamed out of the Métro and into the street. In Paris, even the subways are required to be beautiful.” Well, oui. The principal character is “the wife,” nameless but not faceless, who enters into a relationship and then marriage with all the brave hope attendant in the enterprise. Offill (Last Things, 1999, etc.) is fond of pointed apothegms (“Life equals structure plus activity”) and reflections in the place of actual action, but as the story progresses, it’s clear that events test that hope—to say nothing of hubby’s refusal at first to pull down a decent salary, so the young family finds itself “running low on money for diapers and beer and potato chips.” Material conditions improve, but that hope gets whittled away further with the years, leading to moments worthy of a postmodern version of Diary of a Mad Housewife: “The wife is reading Civilization and Its Discontents, but she keeps getting lost in the index.” The fragmented story, true though it may be to our splintered, too busy lives, is sometimes hard to follow, and at times, the writing is precious, even if we’re always pulled back into gritty reality: “I reach my hand into the murky water, fiddle with the drain. When I pull it back out, my hand is scummed with grease.”
There are moments of literary experimentation worthy of Virginia Woolf here, but in the end, this reads more like notes for a novel than a novel itself.