This story is about a chance encounter on a Manhattan street between a man and a woman that, it turns out, have some history. The POV of the guy is what we hear and he is plainly obsessed with his old acquaintance Mary, who he hasn’t seen in quite a while. But “plainly” is not an accurate word since right off we are treated to a methodical description of Mary’s appearance that is so sensual that it would make the god Eros proud. And there is a nice observation in the science of dalliance when the guy realizes that this random encounter will end just as quickly as it began unless he makes a segue to another encounter, this one planned rather than aleatory.
Back to reading against type: it’s a shame that more men are not likely to pick up this book because if they did, maybe they would gain a greater appreciation of how marriage can be viewed by the other gender. This story is told in first person, it’s Julia’s story and the marriage is seen from her perspective. We see, Joe, her husband from the outside. I share what I believe is the Jaces’ frustration that we never hear Joe’s side of the story. By the time I got halfway through the novel I was already taking Joe’s side even though I believe that it was the author’s intention that I not do so.
I had a wonderful teacher once, the novelist Ann Patchett. I asked her about the research she did for The Magician’s Assistant, and she told me to choose the single best book on the given subject and study it obsessively. Writers are always tempted to track down dozens of books to help give our make-believe stories that tang of authenticity, but often the problem with too much research is a writing style that seems too researched, dry and musty and eager for a history teacher’s gold star of approval.