January 2006

Beth Dugan

fiction

Truth and Consequences by Alison Lurie

Two couples, both alike in circumstance, in fair fictional Corinth, where we lay our scene...

Alison Lurie's Truth & Consequence's first couple, Jane and Alan Mackenzie, who, until recently have been congratulating themselves on how well everything is going; how much they are in love, how handsome their house, how rich their garden, how good the sex, how happy at work and how respected in the community. Jane is an administrator at the university and Alan is a professor who has a passion for Victorian architecture. A slow tragedy unfolds when Alan injures his back playing volleyball and falls victim to chronic and debilitating pain. As the pain increases his personality dissolves and Jane is forced into a caretaking role for a man who was the epitome of hardy male academic resourcefulness and vigor. As the book opens, Jane sees her cramped stooped husband struggling up the driveway and doesn't recognize him at all. There is resentment all around.

The second couple is the famous and difficult poetess Delia Delaney and her mate and general dogs body Henry Hull. Delia has migraines but what really seems more debilitating is her narcissistic and divaish personality. She is as self-involved as she is charming and entices those around her to do her bidding, be it answer her fan mail or weasel out of her contract as Visiting Fellow at the University. Henry, a freelance editor, really just takes care of demanding Delia.

The outcome is in some ways predictable. The caregetters are attracted to one another, as are the caregivers. Henry and Jane bond over being used and unappreciated and Alan and Delia over being misunderstood by their prosaic spouses. Where Lurie really shines is in her deconstruction of what happens to love, marriages and people when small but important changes enter our lives. Something as seemingly trivial as a strained back has a monumental effect on Alan and Jane's marriage. Lurie also questions how much care is a spouse expected, ready, and/or willing to give. How does becoming nurse and patient to any degree effect a relationship's more tangible aspects like sex and intimacy? How much do people really allow one another to change in a marriage? How much should they allow?

All four of these main characters teeter on the brink of being unlikable. Henry is cynical and passive. Jane is milquetoast and too worried about what people think. Alan is arrogant. Delia is self-absorbed. It would be easy to dismiss the whole story as a middle-aged farce of academic bed-hopping. But Lurie adds layer upon layer to her characters, never allowing them to become parodies of themselves. These are people. This is a story you might have witnessed. They are not cookie cut-outs of philandering husbands and wives. In the same moment you are disgusted with their behavior, you ache for the person behaving badly. And that very push/pull is Lurie's saving grace. This is a quiet story about real people in a place that is imaginable, but what Lurie asks the reader to do is look at themselves and extrapolate this story onto their lives.

Truth and Consequences by Alison Lurie
Viking
ISBN: 0670034398
240 Pages