The Story of a Marriage

The Story of a Marriage

Audio CD(Unabridged)

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"We think we know the ones we love.” So Pearlie Cook begins her

indirect and devastating exploration of the mystery at the heart of every relationship: how we can ever truly know another person.

It is 1953 and Pearlie, a dutiful young housewife, finds herself living in the Sunset District in San Francisco, caring not only for her husband’s fragile health but also for her son, who is afflicted with polio. Then, one Saturday morning, a stranger appears on her doorstep, and everything changes. All the certainties by which Pearlie has lived and tried to protect her family are thrown into doubt. Does she know her husband at all? And what does the stranger want in return for his offer of a hundred thousand dollars? For six months in 1953 young Pearlie Cook struggles to understand the world around her, and most especially her husband, Holland.

Pearlie’s story is a meditation not only on love but also on the effects of war, with one war recently over and another coming to a close. Set in a climate of fear and repression–political, sexual, and racial–The Story of a Marriage portrays three people trapped by the confines of their era, and the desperate measures they are prepared to take to escape it. Lyrical and surprising, The Story of a Marriage looks back at a period that we tend to misremember as one of innocence and simplicity.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781427204622
Publisher: Macmillan Audio
Publication date: 04/29/2008
Edition description: Unabridged
Product dimensions: 5.30(w) x 5.80(h) x 0.90(d)

About the Author

Andrew Sean Greer is the bestselling author of The Confessions of Max Tivoli, the story collection How it Was for Me, and the novel, The Path of Minor Planets. He lives in San Francisco, California.


San Francisco, California

Date of Birth:

November 21, 1970

Place of Birth:

Washington, D.C.


B.A. in English, Brown University, 1992; M.F.A . in Fiction, University of Montana, 1996

Read an Excerpt

The Story of a Marriage

A Novel

By Andrew Sean Greer Farrar, Straus and Giroux, LLC

Copyright © 2008 Andrew Sean Greer
All right reserved.

ISBN: 978-0-374-10866-3

Chapter One

We think we know the ones we love.

Our husbands, our wives. We know them-we are them, sometimes; when separated at a party we find ourselves voicing their opinions, their taste in food or books, telling an anecdote that never happened to us but happened to them. We watch their tics of conversation, of driving and dressing, how they touch a sugar cube to their coffee and stare as it turns white to brown, then drop it, satisfied, into the cup. I watched my own husband do that every morning; I was a vigilant wife.

We think we know them. We think we love them. But what we love turns out to be a poor translation, a translation we ourselves have made, from a language we barely know. We try to get past it to the original, but we never can. We have seen it all. But what have we really understood?

One morning we awaken. Beside us, that familiar sleeping body in the bed: a new kind of stranger. For me, it came in 1953. That was when I stood in my house and saw a creature merely bewitched with my husband's face.

Perhaps you cannot see a marriage. Like those giant heavenly bodies invisible to the human eye, it can only be charted by its gravity, its pull on everything around it. That is how I think of it. That I must look at everythingaround it, all the hidden stories, the unseen parts, so that somewhere in the middle-turning like a dark star-it will reveal itself at last.

The story of how I met my husband; even that's not simple. We met twice: once in our Kentucky hometown, and once on a beach in San Francisco. It was a joke for our whole marriage, that we were strangers twice.

I was a teenager when I fell in love with Holland Cook. We grew up in the same farming community, where there were plenty of boys to love-at that age I was like those Amazonian frogs, bright green, oozing emotion from every pore-but I caught no one's eye. Other girls had boys falling over them, and although I did my hair just like them and ripped the trim off attic dresses and sewed it on my hems, it did no good. My skin began to feel like clothing I had outgrown; I saw myself as tall and gawky; and as no one ever told me I was beautiful-neither my mother nor my disapproving father-I decided that I must be plain.

So when a boy came along who actually met my eyes, who showed up along my walk from school and got himself invited in for a slice of bread, I didn't know what to make of him. I could tell he wanted something. For some reason I thought it was help on his schoolwork, so I always went to great pains to hide my notebooks and not sit next to him in class; I wouldn't be used like a crib sheet. But of course that wasn't what he wanted; he was always good in school. He never said what he wanted, in fact, not in all the years I knew him, but you do not judge a man by what he says. You judge him by what he does, and one clear bright night in May when we walked by the strawberry patch, he held my hand all the way to Childress. That's all it took, just the briefest touch, in those days when I wore my nerves outside my skin like lace. Of course I lost my heart.

I was there with Holland in World War Two. He loved that I "talked like a book" and not like any of the other girls, and when the time finally came for him to go into the army, I watched him step onto that bus and head to war. It was a lonely grief for a young girl.

It never occurred to me that I could leave as well, not until a government man walked up to our house and asked for me by name. I tromped down in my faded sundress to find a very ruddy and clean-shaven man wearing a lapel pin of the Statue of Liberty in gold; I coveted it terribly. His name was Mr. Pinker. He was the kind of man you were supposed to obey. He talked to me about jobs in California, how industries wanted strong women like me. His words-they were rips in a curtain, revealing a vista to a world I had never imagined before: airplanes, California; it was like agreeing to travel to another planet. After I thanked the man, he said, "Well then, as thanks you can do a favor for me." To my young mind, it seemed like nothing special at all.

"Now that sounds like the first bright idea you ever had," my father said when I mentioned leaving. I can't find any memory in which he held my gaze as long as he did that day. I packed my bags and never saw Kentucky again.

On the bus ride to California, I studied the mountains' ascent into a line of clouds and saw where, as if set upon those clouds, even higher mountains loomed. I had never seen a sight like that in all my life. It was as if the world had been enchanted all along and no one told me.

As for the favor the man asked of me, it was perfectly simple: he just wanted me to write letters. About the girls around me in the shipyard and the planes and conversations I overheard, everyday rituals: what we ate, what I wore, what I saw. I laughed to think what good it would do him. Now I can only laugh at myself-the government must have been looking for suspicious activities, but he didn't tell me that. He told me to pretend I was keeping a diary. I did my duty; I did it even when I left my first job to become a WAVE-only a few other girls from a community like mine-spreading Noxzema on our pimply faces, the girls' rears shaking to the radio, getting used to Coke instead of rationed coffee and Chinese food instead of hamburgers. I sat there every night and tried to write it all down, but I found my own life lacking; it hardly seemed worth telling. Like so many people, I was deaf to my own stories. So I made them up.

My life wasn't interesting to me, but I'd read books that were, and that is what I put down, with details stolen from Flaubert and Ford and Ferber, intrigues and sorrows and brief colorful joys: a beautiful work of fiction for my country held together with silence and lies. That is, it turns out, what holds a country together. I did my job well, in the handwriting my mother had taught me, tall and loyal and true, signed with the special slipknot P for Pearlie I invented at the age of nine, mailed to Mr. William Pinker, 62 Holly Street, Washington, D.C.

What did you do in the war, Grandma? I lied to my country, pretending to tattle on friends. I'm sure I was just one of thousands; I'm sure it was a clearinghouse for lonely hearts like me. Imagine the ad jingle: "Be a finker ... for Mr. Pinker!"

Then the war ended, as did the factory work for women and our jobs as WAVEs. I had long since stopped writing my notes to Washington; there was so much else to worry about and I had my position doing piecework sewing to pay for meals. And one day, alone down by the ocean, I walked right by a sailor on a bench, sitting with his book facedown like a fig leaf on his lap, staring out to sea.

I knew very little about men, so I was startled to see such despair on his square handsome face. I knew him. The boy who'd held my hand all the way to Childress, whose heart I had, at least briefly, possessed. Holland Cook.

I said hello.

"Well hi there, Sarah, how's the dog?" he said amiably. The wind stopped, as if, like Holland, it did not recognize me. Sarah was not my name.

We stayed there for a moment in the oyster-colored air, with his smile slowly sagging, my hand holding the flap of my coat to my throat, my bright kerchief tugging in the wind, and a sickness building in my stomach. I could have moved on; merely walked away so he would never know who I was. Just some strange girl fading into the fog.

But instead I said my name.

Then you recognized me, didn't you, Holland? Your childhood sweetheart. Pearlie who'd read poetry to you, who'd taken piano lessons from your mother; that was the second time we met. A sudden memory of home, opening like a pop-up book. He chatted with me, he even made me laugh a little, and when I said I had no escort to the movies that Friday and asked if he would come, he paused a while before looking at me, saying quietly, "All right."

I was shocked when he turned up at my rooming house. The low-watt bulbs revealed a weary man, hat in his hands, his skin a little ashen, his elegant necktie loosely knotted. He claimed, years later, that he couldn't even remember what he or I wore that night: "Was it the green dress?" No, Holland; it was black roses on white; its pattern is framed and hung in my memory alongside our honeymoon wallpaper (pale green garlands). I thought he might be drunk; I was afraid he might collapse, but he smiled and offered his arm and after the film took me to a nice restaurant out in North Beach. At dinner, he hardly ate or spoke. He barely looked at me, or noticed the stares we got from other patrons; his own gaze was fixed on two cast-iron dogs that sat before the unlit fireplace. So after we had taken the streetcar to my corner, and it was time to say good night, I was surprised when he turned very quickly and kissed me on the mouth. An electric jolt of happiness passed through me. He stepped back, breathing quickly and buttoned his jacket to go. "I have to see a friend," he told me sharply.

"Holland," I said. He looked back at me as if I had jerked a string. "Holland," I repeated. He waited. And then I said the right thing. It was the only time I ever did: "Let me take care of you."

His deep eyes awakened. Did he think I meant to remind him of our time back in Kentucky, that I offered the soft threat of the past? A dark line appeared between his eyebrows.

He said, "You don't know me, not really."

I told him that didn't matter, but what I meant was that he was wrong; I knew him, of course I knew all about him from that time in our constricting little hometown: the grass behind the schoolyard we used to poke with a stick, the path from Franklin to Childress cluttered with witch hazel and touch-me-nots and railroad vine, the ice shivering in a summer pitcher of his mother's lemonade-the lost world that only I remembered. For here we were so far from home. The one we could never regain. Who could know him better than I?

I acted instinctively. All I wanted was to keep him there on the shining streetcar tracks. "Let me take care of you again."

"You serious?" he asked.

"You know, Holland, I've never been kissed by any boy but you."

"That ain't true, it's been years, Pearlie. So much has changed."

"I haven't changed."

Immediately he took my shoulder and pressed his lips to mine.

Two months later, by those same cable-car tracks, he whispered: "Pearlie, I need you to marry me." He told me that I didn't really know his life, and of course he was right. Yet I married him. He was too beautiful a man to lose and I loved him.


Excerpted from The Story of a Marriage by Andrew Sean Greer Copyright © 2008 by Andrew Sean Greer. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Reading Group Guide

Questions for Discussion
1. How does your view of Pearlie and Holland change in the course of reading Part I? What were your assumptions about them on a first reading and how did they alter?

2. What was your reaction to Buzz's arrival on Pearlie's doorstep? And to the speed with which he becomes such a regular guest in Pearlie and Holland's home?

3. How does Buzz and Pearlie's relationship develop and change in the course of the novel? Discuss what brings them together and separates them.

4. At one point in the novel Pearlie says "I am sure we each loved a different man. Because a lover exists only in fragments…" (p. 64). Do Pearlie and Buzz each know a different Holland? Does Holland surprise you by the choice he finally makes?

5. "It was a medieval time for mothers," Pearlie tells us (p. 14). How much does Pearlie's role as a wife and a caregiver define her? Do you think she could have responded differently to Buzz and his revelations?

6. How did you think about or remember the fifties before reading this novel? Why is it so often portrayed as a period of innocence, despite the polio epidemic, the Korean War, the Red Scare, and segregation? Did the novel change the way you think about this period?

7. Pearlie tells us that she was a "finker for Mr. Pinker" (p. 120). What effect does that have on your view of her and your trust in her as a narrator?

8. "This is a war story. It was not meant to be. It started as a love story, the story of a marriage, but the war has stuck to it everywhere like shattered glass. Not an ordinary story of me in battle but of those who did not go to war." (p. 156). Discuss the way the war affects Pearlie, Holland, Buzz, Annabel Platt, and William Platt.

9. How do the lives of Ethel Rosenberg and Eslanda Goode Robeson relate to Pearlie?

10. Why do you think Pearlie goes to the International Settlement? Does her view of homosexuality change in the course of the novel, and if so, how?

11. How did what happened in Kentucky shape both Pearlie and Holland? And how are they affected by the social changes that happen in the course of their lives?

12. How does Sonny's life differ from that of his parents?

13. "We think we know the ones we love . . . But what have we really understood?" (p. 3). How do you think the novel answers that question?

14 Do you agree with Pearlie's decision at the end of novel not to meet Buzz? Why does she prefer to walk out of the hotel and into the sunlight?

Customer Reviews

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The Story of a Marriage 3.6 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 45 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
One of the smartest books of the 21st century. Greer's use of imagery captivates the reader as Pearlie narrates the story of her marriage. He brilliantly compares war and love, the "gray" areas of life, and demonstrates that there is no black and white when it comes to love; for each person, love is an individual experience. A fabulous, thought provoking read with large universal truths about fighting for the one you love, the power of love, and the definition of marriage.
Melissa_W More than 1 year ago
Greer's book is a quiet, meditative reflection on marriage told through the eyes of Pearlie. She narrates the story so while she tells the "story" of her marriage to Holland you never fully hear Holland's version of the story; she is always told what Holland might be thinking or needing and never truly asks for herself. Because the novel is set in the 1950s of the Korean War, the McCarthy hearings, and the Rosenberg execution, real events also shape Pearlie's story and thoughts on her marriage. I won't pretend that I didn't figure out the central problem of the marriage in the first twenty pages but the beauty of the novel is reading Pearlie's reasoning and decision-making process. Of particular interest is Pearlie's fixation on Ethel Rosenberg and how Ethel is reflected in Pearlie's thoughts; the ramifications of silence and inaction are at the heart of Pearlie's story, too, and Pearlie has learned to find her voice and path at the end of the novel.
indygo88 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I really wanted to love this book, having loved Greer's "Confessions of Max Tivoli". But I have to be honest. While I didn't dislike it, I didn't love it either, and I can't put my finger on why exactly that is. Looking back after finishing the novel, I can appreciate the way the story was put together & how the plot was revealed gradually. But listening to the audio, my mind easily wandered & at times I had trouble really following what was going on. The pace of the novel was a little slow to begin with, and I think the reader in this case compounded that fact. To be fair, I think I would've enjoyed this more with book in hand, versus audio, in order to fully appreciate the lyrical writing & to gain an overall better appreciation of the storyline.
SqueakyChu on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Pearlie Cook is a woman living with her husband and a four-year-old son in a small house in the Sunset district of San Francisco. She lives simply until she faces an unexpected visitor from the past. Suddenly, her marriage is shaken by its roots, and she is forced into making some radical decisions about her life.Having read and loved Andrew Sean Greer's [The Confessions of Max Tivoli], I came into this book with high expectations. I found myself floundering through the first half of this book, being confused as to what was going on. The action moved between five main characters, but not as smoothly as I would have wanted. I proceeded slowly. Then suddenly, about two-thirds of the way through the book, I was pulled deeply into the story and swept up by its lyrical writing.Of note is the fact that certain important traits of the characters were not revealed until later in the book. Those revelations (no spoilers here!) fit into the story in an interesting way, particularly in relation the time setting (1953). This jarred me into taking more notice of what the author was trying to say.The end of the story was both beautiful and emotional. I had to stop along the way, though, to jot down some memorable lines. I even caught myself deciding exactly how I wanted the story to end before reaching its actual conclusion. I did appreciate how the author constructed the ending, reaching into many years later to see the outcome of decisions made a long time ago.
debnance on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I chose this book originally because of all the positive buzz I heard about it. I was happy to see when I received it that it was set in San Francisco. Consequently, I saved it for a month so that I could take it along with us on our anniversary trip to SF. We are here in SF now. I started it yesterday on the plane and finished it last night.It was the perfect book for this trip. Of course its setting in SF is fun, as we visited some of the places mentioned in the book. But, more than that, the book looks at the idea of marriage and love and relationships and commitment. Greer is a master of ambiguity, as is life, so his book perfectly reflects both the despair and the joy that marriage and relationships can bring.
arkgirl1 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I received this book to read and review last weekend and found it a quick read but have needed time to reflect on my views. It takes us into the heart of a marriage between Pearlie and Holland in a time of change and reflection. It gives us a short intense look at a marriage which I found sometimes struggles with the number of different issues it is trying to reflect. I found the concept intriguing - a marriage described by a young wife in post WWII America where: racism; draft dodging; conscientious objectors; homosexuality; and disability are thrown together in a melting pot [sorry a bit cliched!] ... but I found the intensity of the issues prevented me from engaging in depth with the characters. We don't get a sense of any passion and the relationship between Pearlie and Holland is very hard to gauge; in fact her relationship with a rival for his affections is fleshed out much more.Having expressed my reservations I do feel that the writer caght some of the essence of those times and the struggles for a voice that minorities often felt and still feel. The plot development did make me want to know what happened, and there are twists, but I feel that the novel, for me, doesn't quite achieve what the premise and ideas behind it might have.
alphaorder on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Every once in a while a book comes along that is so good but packs so much surprise that you don't want to even talk about what it is about. You just want to say 'READ THIS!' and thrust it into your friends' hands. Greer recounts this story of a marriage and so much more with poignancy and beautiful turn of phrase. Yet this does not detract from the underlying tension carried throughout his novel. Go get your copy, your sunscreen, lawn chair and beverage. The book will grab you from the first sentence and not let you go until the last. Then march over to your neighbor's house and say 'READ THIS!' I guarantee you will want them to, so that you can talk about this fantastic book.
SmithSJ01 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This was absolutely dire. On many many occasions I would have loved to step into the book and given the characters a good hard slap across the face for being so stupid. Then I would like to go back and actually find out what on earth the writer was doing when he wrote this - was he drunk? It's just non stop drivel. It was such a chore to read, it has no pace or excitement, no hooks are used to keep the momentum going - or in this case actually keep me awake. I'd give this a wide berth and find something more entertaining or shorter.
Elphaba71 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
The story begins with Pearlie looking after her husband, Holland, & their disabled son Sonny, going about her daily housewife's chores & building their life together after WW II in 1950's San Francisco. Until one day Charles 'Buzz' Drumer arrived on Pearlie's doorstep, throwing their lives into turmoil. I have to say this is a wonderfully written novel, & I fell completely into it from the beginning. It's an eye opening look into how well we know other people in our lives.Through the book you get to know Pearlie quite well, though Holland remains a bit of a mystery. I liked the secondary characters of the Old Aunts, they knew far more about Holland, and tried to advise Pearlie, and warn her off marrying Holland, with out actually telling all, eventually though as the book draws to it's conclusion, Pearlie begins to see what they were doing & how much the must have known. The novel didn't finish as I though it would, never the less a good ending. A very enjoyable read.
bobbieharv on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Well, it wasn't as good as I expected based on the reviews. A white man shows up at the door of a married black woman's house in the 1950s claiming to have fallen in love with her husband during the war. They enter into some sort of unclear arrangement to cede the husband to him, for unclear reasons, and to steer him away from the young daughter of his employer with some sort of unclear letter. It's written like an elegy, lovely writing at times and at others annoyingly over-written.
Rubbah on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I wasn't expecting to enjoy this book as much as i did. it's a slim novel and so quick to read, yet it leaves you thinking for some time about the nature of marriage, love and relationships, as well as the the war and how it affects life, even years after.
jules72653 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
What a wonderful book! I recommended this book to my mother and found I really couldn't say what it was about because to describe the story line is to give away the heart of the book. I simply said it's a story of Pearlie and Holland Cook's marriage set in San Francisco in the 1950s and it contains more than a few worthwhile surprises. To say this is about racism or sexuality is to strip it of it's grace.
1morechapter on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
It seems this story has polarized readers. Some love it, while others intensely dislike the book. I fall into the latter camp. I thought I was really going to like it initially, but then the story went way over the top into unbelievability for me. I found myself disliking it more and more as the pages progressed. It¿s really almost impossible to speak about the issues I had with the book without giving away some huge spoilers, but I will give you a taste of what it¿s about.Holland and Pearlie Cook are childhood sweethearts with a son and a dog that doesn¿t bark. Everything is going along fine until one day Buzz, a man from Holland¿s past, shows up at the door and changes everything. Set in the 50¿s and San Francisco.
stonelaura on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
¿We think we know the ones we love.¿ That is the first sentence in The Story of a Marriage, and it captures the essence of the book. We may love wholly, devote our lives, spend endless moments with and around our loved ones, but, in the end Greer tells us, we will never really be able to predict their behavior or anticipate their choices. The three central characters, Pearlie and Holland Cook, and Buzz Drumer revolve around each other like planets or satellites, occasionally shedding luminous light on each other and at other times, casting dark shadows and infectious doubt. The story of how these three basically good and solid individuals struggle to really know each other, takes place during the repressive and suspicious 1950¿s at the end of one war and the beginning of another. Greer captures the essence of the times -- the communist fear, the nuclear threat, and the segregationist movement. We do not learn that Pearlie is ¿colored¿ until the last line of the first chapter. Greer wants us to think of her first as a reflective and somber individual. Do we know the ones we love? Can we make choices based on what we think they want or desire? Can we make good choices if we love too much? Mistakes are made, some are corrected, and in the end we do our best. While not as imaginative and unique as The Confessions of Max Tivoli, The Story of a Marriage confirms Greer¿s talent as a thoughtful, precise writer who is able to create deep emotional moments and fully-realized characters.Tony winner Merkerson¿s careful and precisely modulated reading exactly reflects the tone of the book.
pdebolt on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This is a well-written book that contains many surprises and an insight into the dark side of the innocence of the post-WWII world. The three main characters are an enigma to me, especially Holland. After the premise of the relationships among the three is revealed, I wondered repeatedly why Pearlie didn't simply talk wtih Holland for confirmation or denial. I didn't see any depth to these characters or any development of the relationships. That said, it is well written and an interesting view of the 1950s.
crazy4novels on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
If you're looking for a short, atmospheric novel to read this summer, I recommend Andrew Greer's latest book, "The Story of a Marriage," which recounts the story of one family's domestic crisis in post-war California, 1953.Greer's tale, which follows the lives of the Cook family (Pearl, Holland, and their young toddler, Sonny) as they settle into the newly developed Sunset district of San Francisco, contains several well-placed surprises that I won't give away here. In the course of the story, the author makes it abundantly clear that the 1950's appear "golden" only if they are viewed through the rosy lens of selective memory. If you enjoyed membership in a favored class -- white, politically orthodox, and heterosexual -- the decade had its high points. Otherwise, not so much.Greer weaves the darker threads of the 50's -- polio outbreaks, communist witch hunts, the Korean War, and the ever present threat of nuclear annihilation -- into his story with language that is evocative, yet understated. He is at his best when he addresses societal restrictions that suppressed personal freedom and dignity. Pearl and Holland live in a world where elegant grandmothers in their Sunday hats, eager to celebrate a special occasion, must request directions to the "special area" of the tea room reserved for blacks. Gay men are rounded up in private club raids and imprisoned for criminal indecency. Interracial couples must assess when and where they can be seen in public without risking physical injury. Conscientious objectors and draft dodgers are run out of their hometowns and forced to relocate in order to reclaim any semblance of a normal life. Next door neighbors spy on each other and suppress their political opinions. Unhappy wives and husbands consider clandestine murder as a preferable alternative to the public shame of a divorce. A repressed blanket of desperation smothers Pearl and Holland's suburban neighborhood as thoroughly as the fog that rolls in from San Francisco Bay each morning.As indicated by the book's title, Pearl and Holland's marriage crisis forms the crux of the novel. Pearl, Holland, and some integral third parties are all casting about for some measure of freedom, some unfettered definition of their own personhood, throughout the book. Although the novel is written in Pearl's voice, I think that Greer's depiction of Holland's internal struggle offers the more subtle and deep exploration of human nature. Holland is portrayed as a handsome man -- the stunning kind of "handsome" that necessarily affects every aspect of his existence. It is his gift, and his curse. Greer writes (in Pearl's voice): "By being what everyone wanted him to be -- being the husband, the flirt, the beautiful object, and the lover -- by pleasing us all in giving us his gracious smile, he had tortured each of us when it did not turn our way. Beauty is forgiven everything except its absence from our lives, and the effort to return all loves at once must have broken him."Other characters in the novel seem to have some idea of who they want to be and how they want to escape the box that the mid-20th century has constructed around them. Holland, on the other hand, has lost all sense of himself after years of existing as no more than a mirror image of other people's desires. Everyone has attempted to employ his beauty and use it to actualize their own "dream narrative." He has been a chameleon for so long that he is hard pressed to know his own heart's desire, and the choice he eventually makes may surprise you.This is a good book on many levels -- I recommend it.
CynthiaBelgum on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Carefully crafted, internal story with narration by only one character, i found the book to be full of insight, but the action a bit too slow for me. Beautifully written.
ValerieAndBooks on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
It¿s impossible to discuss "The Story of a Marriage" without introducing spoilers. Let¿s just say it¿s about relationships, surprises, long-time-ago San Francisco, and a good read. This novel is best appreciated if you don't know much more than that once you start reading.
peachnik on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I gave this book an extra half-point for effort in introducing a broad number of issues in post-WW II society. Discrimination was a fact of life and the book covers the topic on many fronts including racial, sexual orientation, McCarthyism (political), and pacifism (conscientious objectors). It also shows that a marriage can hide many secrets and need not be perfect to be in many way, a good marriage.I didn't give the book a higher rating because the prose doesn't flow well, there are some simply awful metaphors, and in an effort to keep the books secrets unexposed, the reader can feel lost at times.I work in a library, and when the book "The Great Starvation Experiment" came across my desk, I decided to read it since I felt Greer had certainly used this as one reference for his novel's background. It turned out to be an interesting read and indeed, elaborated one of the novel's more interesting and less known historical themes.
DevourerOfBooks on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Pearlie Cook is a housewife in San Francisco post-World War II. She lives in a small house with her husband Holland and young son who has polio. Pearlie knew Holland when they were both growing up in the South, was his girlfriend back home before he went into the war. When she arrived in San Francisco, she met him again entirely by accident, and it was not long before he told her that he needed her to marry him.I was a bit apprehensive when Pearlie married Holland, because it really didn¿t seem that she knew him at all, which given the rest of the book is probably exactly what I should have been feeling. Holland doesn¿t talk much about his time in the war, so Pearlie really is not expecting it when Buzz comes to their front door, claiming to be a friend of Holland¿s from when he was in the army. Even less expected than Buzz¿s presence, however, is what he will tell Pearlie and the sacrifice he will ask of her.Initially I wasn¿t quite sure how I would feel about this book. There is a sort of dreamy, far-off quality about the story, particularly in the beginning and I was sure I wouldn¿t be able to identify with any of the characters because of it. However, Greer¿s beautiful, lyrical writing soon drew me into the story. It made sense for the novel to have such a dreamy quality, because much of what happened seemed surreal to Pearlie.This is a wonderfully done work of literary fiction. If you stick primarily with contemporary fiction and don¿t venture much into literary fiction this may not quite work for you, but if you enjoy literary fiction I highly suggest you give this a read.
laurie_library on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Love story set at the beginning of wwii between a boy and a girl. The boy goes away to war and has a white male lover. The lover comes back and spends six months convincing Pearlie that Holland needs to be with him (Buzz), Poignant, filled with rich real characters. I would recommend this book and may be reading it again for book club.
GreyMoggie on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Read this book with a notebook and pen handy! There were so many phrases I wanted to capture, but the story moved along so quickly, I never wanted to put the book down to record them. Excellent, quick read that offers a lot to think about when it is over.
Sararush on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
¿Holland and I had talked about our friends and our childhoods and movies and books and politics¿we had agreed and disagreed and had our fights and merry moments over a beer¿but I think it¿s fair to say we had never spoken honestly in all ours lives.¿ This quote from A Story of a Marriage by Andrew Sean Greer prettily sums up the story¿s central conflict. The narrator, Pearlie a young mother and wife to her high school sweetheart, Holland grapples with her marriage in 1950¿s San Francisco. She says, ¿I loved you like a field on fire,¿ in reference to Holland, and yet her marriage and commitments are tested by the appearance of a dapper stranger.It does the novel a disservice to reveal any more about the plot, as its secrets are revealed in well timed waves. In fact the book¿s only draw back is its brevity as its simple prose endears readers page by page. It¿s an unconventional love story written with graceful restraint and vibrant characters. The Story of a Marriage is as perfect a novel as any I've read.
AlRiske on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This is a hypnotic period-piece of a novel with a series of twists that shift the reader's perceptions.
michrichmond on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Andrew Sean Greer¿s new novel, The Story of a Marriage, is the much-anticipated follow-up to the critically acclaimed The Confessions of Max Tivoli.The setting is San Francisco, 1953, and the narrator is Pearlie Cook, whose lyrical opening words, a kind of soliloquy for her damaged marriage, set the tone for this lovely, sensitive, thought-provoking novel. ¿Perhaps you cannot see a marriage. Like those giant heavenly bodies invisible to the human eye, it can only be charted by its gravity, its pull on everything around it.¿As with Confessions, Greer has intricately drawn San Francisco in another time. Pearlie and her husband, Holland Cook, grew up together in Kentucky in the years leading up to World War II. Now, they are adults, parents to a young boy, living far from the homes of their childhood, making a life in San Francisco¿s unfashionable Sunset District, once known as the Outside Lands. One day while Holland is at work, a stranger comes knocking on their door, identifying himself as Buzz Drummer, an old friend of Holland¿s from the war years. Despite Pearlie¿s initial wariness about him, they eventually become close friends, and Buzz becomes a part of their family.One day, Buzz makes a startling revelation about the past, a revelation which forces Pearlie to make a life-altering choice. This happens at the end of Part One, around the same time we learn another fact about Pearlie Cook that complicates the plot even further. It¿s difficult to write about The Story of a Marriage without giving anything away, given the delicate pace at which the plot proceeds. So I will say nothing more here by way of summary, other than that the rest of the book centers on this impossible choice, a choice that deeply complicates Pearlie¿s relationship with both her husband and with Buzz. In the background, always, is Pearlie¿s young son, his presence a reminder, both to Pearlie and the reader, of how much is at stake.One of the most touching things about this novel is the sense one gets of the author¿s total honesty, the feeling that the discoveries Greer has made in the process of writing the book have been shared, generously and unabashedly, with the reader. ¿This is a war story,¿ Pearlie says more than three-quarters of the way through the novel. ¿It was not meant to be. It started as a love story, the story of a marriage, but the war has stuck to it everywhere like shattered glass.¿ So while it is called The Story of a Marriage, it is also the story of a time in America¿s history. The silences that divide one couple, the Cooks, serve here as a microcosm of a greater silence, an atmosphere of secrecy and divisiveness that falls over the whole of society.There are surprises throughout, and, ultimately, there is hope. One night Pearlie stands outside a bar and observes, ¿Beyond the inscrutable movements of these men, the world they had built beneath the ordinary one; beyond the seedy lights and grimy hotels¿it was a feeling, which I could not name at the time, of something awakening¿It was as if part of the body was stirring, moving very slowly to rouse the rest.¿Admirers of Confessions may recall that one of Greer¿s greatest gifts is his kindness to his characters; that same gift is on full display here. His characters fail and fumble, and ultimately, they find their way.