The story of the couple’s drift and, ultimately, their rift comes to us by way of Ethan, who is both nostalgic for their high-octane early years together in New York and burdened by his domestic responsibilities in the cozy hamlet they chose for its slower pace. Now, while Zo is rocking out in the living room with her compatriots — the vibe is “a cross between the Irish Republican Army and the Charlie Brown dance scene” — he’s the one who makes sure Alex gets to bed on time. (The imposition!) Maddy, unencumbered by the baggage or history of a long relationship, is the only one who is sympathetic to Ethan’s plight.
Instead of steering us into an affair, Benjamin sets up an intricate obstacle course. Ethan has to figure out how or whether to extricate his ex-business partner from a mess of his own creation. Zo needs to navigate the next phase of her career, as well as the loathsome power parents who want to oust Alex from the carefully curated, artisanal fifth grade. It’s impossible not to sympathize with Zo, to want more of her, and yet she remains out of reach, unaware that her own husband may be one of the very men she is railing against. We even come to feel sort of sorry for the well-intentioned but misguided Ethan, who just wants to connect with his wife.
What’s at stake is the state of the Fromes’ union, but neither of them stops to consider this until they’ve both lost sight of their destination: the supportive, creative and thoughtful idyll they hoped to build together. Instead, the two change lanes so many times, they’re not even on the same highway. Their gazes flick to the rearview and then the side view, where objects really are closer than they appear (and not just Maddy) — until, in a brutal, gut-wrenching moment, when it might already be too late, Ethan and Zo finally turn their attention to the smudged windshield that is their future together. Will they merge or exit? Do they have a choice?
[ Read an excerpt from “The Smash-Up.” ]
Were you on a particular side? If so, why? And when you arrived at the, shall we say, “hairpin turn,” what were your thoughts?
“Impersonation,” by Heidi Pitlor. Welcome to another run-down corner of the Berkshires. This is a similarly wry view of characters struggling with a boiled-down version of issues in the headlines — in this case, a slow slide into poverty, the challenges of finding affordable child care and the reality of being a woman who “has it all.”
“Behold the Dreamers,” by Imbolo Mbue. In her debut novel, Mbue tells the story of a Cameroonian couple who are building a new life in New York City when their jobs are upended by the 2008 financial crisis. We see the collapse of Lehman Brothers through the eyes of an executive’s chauffeur and the unfortunate domino effect of choices made by a wealthy few.