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Still Life with Husband
By Lauren Fox
258 pages; $22.95
Unless one's schedule is taken up with entertaining guests or finding ways to keep one's children amused, Pessah is one of those rare opportunities to catch up with one's reading.
There's something comforting about being able to hold a book, turning pages with one's fingers instead of scrolling or clicking a mouse.
For light, enjoyable reading, this first novel by Lauren Fox is like finding a new friend, the kind of person one meets on a long bus or train journey, and with whom one instantly shares personal details.
Fox could best be described as an unreserved conversational writer. One can almost hear her speaking as one reads. She writes in the first person, and mostly in the present tense, with a certain breathlessness that piques curiosity.
Obviously a keen people watcher, she imbues her characters with traits that are all instantly recognizable. We all know people with some of these habits - and let's face it, if we're honest, we can recognize some of these characteristics in ourselves.
It's this knack for getting into the nitty-gritty of people's makeup, yet with a brevity that somehow says it all, that makes Still Life with Husband such an enjoyable read.
Fox takes on the character of Emily Ross, a 30-year-old freelance journalist married to Kevin, a technical writer who, though he loves her dearly, gives more passionate attention to technical appliances.
They disagree on many things. He wants to start a family, but she's not ready. He wants to live in the suburbs. She wants a cozy apartment in town.
Their tastes in food differ, as do their tastes in entertainment. Each has habits that aggravate the other, sometimes to the extent of screaming, but most of the time they find ways around the annoyances, like most married couples do.
Despite all this, Emily considers their marriage to be a good if not altogether fulfilling one, and recognizes that Kevin is basically a good and sweet man.
Still, she craves excitement.
One day, while having coffee with her best friend Meg, the two observe that sexy-looking David, sitting on the other side of the coffee shop, is casting surreptitious glances at Emily, and has the grace to blush when he sees them looking back.
Seeing a stranger across a crowded room and becoming momentarily attracted has happened to many of us, but few do anything about it beyond fantasizing briefly.
Emily does more. She goes to get a refill at the coffee counter, as does David. They make small talk, discovering that they are both in the same profession, but that he works in a tenured capacity.
He suggests that she might want to work for his newspaper, and gives her his e-mail address, at which time Meg - good friend that she is and sensing trouble - butts in and steers Emily away.
It is only after Emily and Meg get out onto the street that Emily realizes she isn't wearing her wedding ring, which means David has no inkling that he's been flirting with a married woman.
Emily has never hesitated to tell Kevin that some man has made a pass at her - a revelation that often makes her husband more loving and attentive. But this time she holds back; she is already dreaming about having sex with David.
She feels guilty, but reassures herself that she hasn't actually done anything wrong.
But then she takes the initiative and sends David an e-mail. When they meet again, she has deliberately chosen not to wear her wedding ring, and from there on begins a romantic relationship shrouded in a web of lies. She is lying to David, lying to Kevin and, to some extent, lying to herself.
She shares all her thoughts - including a number of delightful analogies - with her readers, and although the story does in some respects follow an inevitable course, there are unexpected twists, with neither a happy nor unhappy ending because Fox cleverly leaves the reader guessing.
Voyeurs who get a kick out of looking into other people's lives will enjoy this book, which is clever and witty and manages to turn a heavy situation into a light read.
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