Monday, January 18, 2010

What're the odds?

I guess it's close enough to Groundhog Day for a little Deja Vu.

Just a couple of weeks ago I reviewed "That Old Cape Magic," by Richard Russo, about a guy named Griffin who's having some marital problems. Shortly thereafter, a novel called "Say When," by Elizabeth Berg was recommended to me by a coworker. It's about a guy named Griffin who's having some marital problems.

What're the odds?

While I did enjoy Berg's writing style, and I give her props for writing from the male point of view for the first time, I will admit was annoyed when I picked up the book. "Ugh. Another divorce story ... Fantastic." I almost said "when" right then.

But I wanted to read the book. My friend Pat who gave it to me has exquisite taste in so many things. I wanted to see what she liked about this novel.

The protagonist, Frank Griffin, is a guy who's pretty content with his life. His wife is his best friend, and together they have a precocious 8-year-old daughter named Zoe, a comfortable home.

So when his stay-at-home-wife, Ellen, tells him she's having an affair, Griffin's world is pretty well rocked. Ellen, who was Griffin's college sweetheart, doesn't want to leave the house or Zoe, but after discovering Griffin's not about to leave (he is, after all, the wronged party), she moves out and continues her affair with her lover, and asks him for a divorce.

But she's not completely out of the picture. She and Griffin alternate nights at the family home with Zoe after school.

Meanwhile, Griffin struggles to come to terms with the end of his marriage. Is it worth saving? Staying strong for his daughter keeps him from entirely losing it. He and Ellen proceed to have a lot of painful and bitter fights.

Griffin keeps himself busy with a seasonal job playing Santa at the local mall, and taking the beautiful and too-understanding (divorced herself) Santa photographer out on a couple of dates.

Griffin starts to learn about himself and to take responsibility for his role in the problems with his relationship with Ellen. His personal growth and change is the interesting part of the novel for me. The acrimony and petty insults that surround the dissolving marriage, not so much. I admire him for his attempts to get Ellen back, even when it seems there's no hope left.

In the end, "Say When" was a worthwhile read. The characters, their dialogues and relationships are real. I got over my annoyance with the subject matter and finished the book just to find out what happened. When you want to know what becomes of the character, that's when I think you're invested.

Incidentally, I read that Elizabeth Berg - a former nurse - writes only one novel a year (I don't know if that's true), and that she has quite a following who wait for that yearly tome. Thus far she's published 10 novels, including New York Times bestsellers "Never Change" and "Open House," which was an Oprah's Book Club selection in 2000.


Anonymous said...

You're so hip, with your hipster lingo Ms. Karas.
I'd marry and divorce you and write a book about it any day.

Michelle Karas said...

And I thought that blog was completely devoid of hipster lingo, Mr. Anonymous Brandt wanna-be polygamist.