Two bourgeois bohemians shake up their tepid marriage, achieving only stasis in Gaffney’s (The Goodbye Summer, 2004, etc.) innocuous latest.
It hits Dash Bateman at another interminable faculty soiree: Her husband of 20 years, Andrew, associate history professor at tiny Mason-Dixon College in D.C., is a crashing bore. Not only does he say “em” instead of “um” though he’s not British, he’s a hypochondriac, beset by allergies. When he won’t let her keep a puppy someone has abandoned in the doorway of their townhouse, Dash and dog flee to the Bateman’s pond-side country cottage. At first, Andrew is too preoccupied with campus politics to register Dash’s absence. He could win a promotion to full professor and department chair if only he’d compromise his liberal leanings by helping a right-wing colleague. Raven-haired, wasp-tongued academic Elizabeth appeals to Andrew’s baser instincts as she tries to enlist him in her Machiavellian plots. Dash studies muskrats, photographs butterflies and gets embroiled in the lives of Shevlin, the cottage handyman, his wife Cottie, a recovering heart patient, and their hunky son-in-law Owen, clearly a salt-of-the-earth foil to Andrew. Owen is not only indispensable at closet building and kitchen-cabinet refinishing, he single-handedly works an organic farm and cattle ranch, plying Dash with duck eggs and homespun bromides. Dash commutes to Washington to run her photography studio with the help of new assistant Greta, who reminds her of herself at 25, when she was (improbably) a spiky haired punkette. Preternaturally calm Chloe, the Batemans’ daughter, would mediate her parents’ estrangement if only she could identify its source. Her bafflement is shared by a couples counselor, but readers will recognize in the separation a transparent plot device: Errant spouses are tempted by infidelity, though it’s obvious neither will succumb. A trip to the hospital occasioned by folksy Cottie’s arrhythmia and Andrew’s not-so-imaginary affliction is enough to corral the principals for the inevitable happy and edifying denouement.
Like its characters, risk averse.