A Virtuous Woman is Ruby Stokes, who ran off very unwisely from her comfortable home as a teenager, only to be promptly abandoned by her flashy lover. She eventually marries a decidedly unglamorous tenant farmer and finds quiet contentment, in a life enmeshed with that of the owners of the farm. It’s a quiet, sweet, optimistic story.
Idaho stars the wife of an early-onset Alzheimer patient, who tries to untangle her husband’s past, now that he can no longer remember what happened to his first wife and daughters. The tale is hazy and disconnected, as surely his mind must be by the time the story starts, but also kind and loving, despite what we know from the start must be a very dark story. The magnificent Idaho mountains are an added pleasure to the complex tale.
In Late in the Day, a man dies and his wife and their best friends lose their minds (I say, uncharitably). The story alternates between the current days of grief and the past history of the four, a tad complicated and entangled, with foreshadowing of the current and fatal entanglement. I grew bored of the foursome’s banal lives–but not without admiring the apt observations and engaging style of the author.
Jonathan Santlofer’s wife died suddenly and unexpectedly after what was supposed to be routine surgery — and to this day he has never received a precise accounting of what happened. The memoir describes his grief, the solace of his work, the minutiae of after-death, and his entire marriage.
Sad but absolutely not depressing, and with a lovely description of his relationship with his daughter.
The woman and man that stars in One Part Woman are perfectly happy, but their lack of children makes them a target for jokes, deep concern from their parents, and harassment, from friends and enemies alike. So they dutifully trudge to temples and festivals, trying to get the pregnancy that will deliver them from the stigma of childlessness.
I enjoyed the first 100 pages or so, as the couple endures humiliations and taunts despite being quite satisfied with their marriage themselves. And then, the story seems to repeat itself over and over again until the end. Too bad, the beginning had quite a pleasant mix of exoticism, marriage wisdom, and social constraints.
Alternate Side is not as silly as The Awkward Age because it’s filled with small asides of well observed details. For instance, the heroine has a new (male) temp who gives her a perfect heads-up on a panicked call from her daughter, which causes her to ask whether he has sisters. Yes, we would ask that same question! But the petty dramas of a privileged New York cul-de-sac seemed, to me at least, to be petty and predictable.
A 19-year old meets a woman his mother’s age and they fall in love. They get kicked out of the tennis club. She leaves her husband. It won’t end well, but it will take decades (and lots and lots of drinking!) to get there. The Only Story takes us through the entire cycle and describes, in details and with wonderful irony, the horrified reactions of everyone around them and the awkward adjustments they have to make. The story is sad, of course, but also full of hilarious embarrassing moments.