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"He could not think of a single major act he'd managed of his own accord."
on 24 June 2008
Winner of the National Book Critics Circle Award in 1985, this thoughtful character novel focuses on Macon Leary, a travel writer who hates to travel, a man who has gone through life observing what is happening, but who has never been truly engaged. Compulsively tidy, Macon has always believed that it is possible to order one's life so effectively that the untidiness, or chaos, that throws life into confusion can be avoided. And then his beloved 12-year-old son is cold-bloodedly murdered in the senseless robbery of a burger joint while he is away at camp for the first time.
It gives away nothing of the plot to say that this event totally undoes Macon and his wife, and their polite and predictable marriage goes into a tailspin. When the novel opens, Macon and Sarah have decided to separate, with Sarah getting her own apartment (where she can be as messy as she wants) and Macon remaining in the house with his son Ethan's undisciplined dog Edward. In fact, Macon has moved back with his sister and brothers in the family house, to recuperate from his physical wounds--an accident in which he breaks his leg-- and from his emotional wounds.
Then into his life comes Muriel, a divorcee with an over-protected, allergic, and hypersensitive son. She is a dog trainer, a flake, the only person willing to undertake the task of civilizing the aggressive, sometimes vicious "pet" that lives with Macon. As Macon tries to deal with his life, his loss of Sarah (who is dating), his son's dog (which attacks anything that moves), and his commitment to producing yet another travel book, his life becomes more complicated, and the depth of his relationship with Sarah, relative to the shared loss they have faced, becomes an issue which must be revisited if he is ever to engage with life and explore the possibilities of a new life which Muriel offers.
Filled with wonderful descriptions of life, both within Macon's family and in Europe, where he travels for research, the novel provides the reader with a full, realistic picture of marriage between people whose relationship has been, in part, the result of their commitment to their son. Poignant and emotional, but avoiding melodrama, the novel explores the meaning of life and love, the extent to which a marriage may limit or stimulate the growth of the people involved, and the ways in which a marriage must adapt to the new needs of the participants if it is to endure through time. Mary Whipple