Last month my Book Report featured two novels that revolved around marriage- Dennis Lehane's Since We Fell and Deanna Lynn Sletten's One Wrong Turn. I recently read two more books that featured marriage in very different lights. (My review is here.)
Sarah Dunn's The Arrangement revolves around Lucy and Owen, who moved from hipster Brooklyn to quiet upstate Beekman, a bucolic little Norman Rockwell-y commuter town. They have a son Wyatt, who is on the autism spectrum, and whose illness has caused strain in the marriage.
When friends mentioned that a mutual couple they know have decided to have an "arrangement", whereby both of the spouses can have lovers outside of the marriage, both couples laugh at the notion, even though it apparently has worked for Frank and Jim.
After a particularly stressful day, Lucy and Owen jokingly make up a list of rules for their own little arrangement- no one can know, they can't fall in love, they must use condoms and there is a time limit of six months. They call it their own little "rumspringa" (like the Amish do) and shake on the deal.
Owen meets a woman at the supermarket who flirts with him, and Lucy meets a divorced father of two in New York City. At first it seems to be working, but like all bad ideas, this one falls apart too.
The Arrangement is quick page-turner of a book, with solid, interesting characters that the reader invests in. Peeking into someone else's marriage is an eye-opening experience. I think this would make a fabulous book club selection, the conversations would be fascinating.
My only minor complaint is that it may have been more interesting to go against stereotype with Lucy and Owen and their respective experiences, but I do enthusiastically recommend The Arrangement.
Michelle Richmond's The Marriage Pact is about a newly married couple, Alice and Jake. Alice is a respectable lawyer, who at one time was in a rock band. Jake works with troubled teens. When one of Alice's very wealthy clients gives them a special wedding present, the trouble begins.
Alice and Jake are invited to join a group, The Pact, whose goal is to help couples stay happily married. At first it seems like an admirable goal, making your spouse feel loved and cherished, doing special things for him like buying presents, and planning trips away. But again, things fall apart.
The Pact has very specific rules, and violators of those rules are punished in very specific ways. At first the punishments seem minor, but repeated violations result in more severe punishments. If you are deemed to not be 'with the program', you are whisked away to be reprogrammed- or worse.
The Marriage Pact is a crazy novel. It's sort of like Scientology in its cult-like secret society, but when Alice and Jake find out exactly what they have gotten themselves into, the story takes off like a rocket. You will find yourself holding your breath and saying "what the what?" is happening here. My heart was pounding at times reading this. It's been awhile since I read The Pact, and I still find myself pondering it. If you thought Gone Girl was nuts, read The Marriage Pact.
One thing I learned from reading both The Arrangement and The Marriage Pact is to be very careful what you and your spouse agree to, you never know where it will lead. The Marriage Pact and The Arrangement read together would make for a very intriguing book club meeting indeed, especially if it was a couples book club.
The Arrangement by Sarah Dunn
Published by Little, Brown ISBN 9780316013598
Hardcover, $26, 357 pages
The Marriage Pact by Michelle Redmond
Published by Bantam ISBN 9780385343299
Hardcover, $27, 432 pages