A deceptively breezy, thoughtful look at the emotional complexities of a childless suburban California marriage.
Lawyer Elinor Mackey’s discovery that husband Ted, a podiatrist, is having an affair with his gym trainer, Gina, just scratches the surface of troublesome issues in the Mackeys’ relationship. Forty-year-old Elinor has been trying to have a baby, enduring exhausting hormone injections and a miscarriage; Ted has stood by her stoically, even tenderly, though their sex life is shot. Immersed in her work as a top-notch international employee-relations lawyer in Silicon Valley, Elinor is addicted to writing lists and sorting the laundry, leaving little room for romance or even dinner with her husband. Ted wonders why she’s no fun anymore and readily succumbs to Gina’s seduction. Winston doesn’t wrestle much with the moral questions raised by a middle-aged man falling for his trainer, nor does she offer any facile condemnation of one party or the other, delighting instead in complicating the plot at every turn. Just as the Mackeys separate and seem to be making headway in therapy, Gina’s emotionally needy ten-year-old son Toby (and who knew she had a son?) decides that Ted is going to be the father figure in his life. Ted begins to tutor Toby, perhaps out of guilt, and then starts sleeping with Gina again. She remains wary, having been damaged and left vulnerable by various men in her life. Ted’s initial feeling for her morphs from pity into (possibly) real love, while Elinor, more emotionally detached, attracts the local tree surgeon as well as the young man who comes to clean her house. And yet Ted loves El and only wants to be with her (doesn’t he?). Pregnancy—at last!—cannot save this doomed marriage, as Elinor laments, “It’s not about having a baby, it’s about having a family.” The author allows her characters to seethe, stumble and emerge fully human.
Winston (Good Grief, 2004) skillfully comes into her own with this brave second novel.