Emma Bovary wannabe ponders an alternative to her mundane domestic lifestyle in this dreamlike but grating modern fable.
The unnamed narrator of Brownrigg’s fifth work of fiction (Delivery Room, 2006, etc.) has grown tired of the life that her husband Alan has constructed for them, seemingly with little input from her. She quietly passes her days working in a stationary store; she puts up with Alan’s constant contact with his ex-wife Theresa; and she reluctantly though tenderly helps him raise his two sons, Alan and Ryan. While she doesn’t like admitting that anything is wrong with her marriage, she finds herself inexplicably drawn to Richard, a burly envelope salesman who visits her at work and initiates a series of weekly lunch dates at a nearby falafel stand. The two grow increasingly attached, though they don’t act on any physical impulses, and the narrator is hard pressed to understand her attraction to Richard or his place in her life. Things unravel when Alan catches them holding hands in a park, then finds a pile of affectionate notes from Richard in her purse. His jealousy leads to a spiral of squabbles, spying and joint therapy sessions. But just when the narrator seems ready to rebel and run, a trip to her childhood home with Richard and the news that he is moving back to Chicago makes her understand that her life with Alan hasn’t ended, that it just needs work. Because Brownrigg seems so dedicated to pinpointing the minute details often to blame for the downfall of a marriage, the melodramatic climax and optimistic ending seem inconsistent and a bit contrived. Her ability to lend an otherworldly feel to such a contemporary story, however, is commendable.
Slow plotting and an exhaustingly cerebral narrator muffle the impact of the author’s interesting experiments with tone.