After loving the novel LESS, I picked this book to explore more of Pulitzer Prize Winning author Andrew Sean Greer’s fiction. Although this one displays a similar mastery of prose – it fell short in many other ways. Awarded three stars on Goodreads.
The year is 1953 in San Francisco. American society is still recovering from World War II and sending more young men to fight in Korea. Pearl is four years into a less than passionate marriage to Holland Cook, a ex-soldier she first fell for years ago in school. Holland is one of those beautiful men whose good looks make him noticed wherever he goes. And they have a young son.
The Cooks are introduced in a way that makes you think they will typify young families of the era. That is until a former Army acquaintance of Holland’s shows up at the door.
What the novel does well is place the reader smack in the middle of 1950s America. With so many delicious details about commonplace objects that it can let loose a flood of memories, if you happen to be old enough to remember that era.
It also explores some rich topics from 1950s society. Like the hidden world of gay bars, polio, draft dodging, the Julius and Ethel Rosenberg trial, McCarthyism, and race relations just a year before the landmark Brown vs. Board of Education decision.
There is not, however, all that much “action” in this story. The book was much too cerebral to me. Much of the time, I felt stuck in a character’s mind as they were observing details, exploring deep thoughts, or considering the minutia of making a decision. Almost as though the author was overly fixated on creating an authentic time and place, at the expense of the storyline.
I will try another Greer novel at some point. Because I so admire his use of language. But I didn’t find this particular novel very compelling. Of course, if it speaks to you, it is short. So go for it.
More about the author, Andrew Sean Greer.
You may be interested in my review of another Greer novel, LESS.