7 September 2017
“People came to Audra for advice— well, no, not advice, that was the wrong word. They came to her for secrets, for gossip, for connections— for intel, that was the term— about everything. Friends sought her expertise on their job interviews, on their children’s chances of getting into private schools, on marriage counselors, on hairdressers, on au pairs, on restaurants, on shops, on neighborhood watches, on gyms, on doctors, on internet providers. People asked her about local politics and she didn’t even know who the mayor of New York City was! (Well, she probably did know who the mayor was, but it wasn’t a certainty by any means.)”
Audra is Graham’s second wife, younger than his first and mother of ten-year-old Matthew, who has Asperger’s and is currently fascinated with origami.
The author tells the story from Graham’s point of view, but not in his voice. I think he has lived with Audra so long now that his thinking is often the stream-of-consciousness that her speech patterns are. She races breathlessly from one subject to another off on a random tangent to some other vaguely connected fact or opinion until she (usually) seems to arrive back at the starting point. I don’t recall her losing her train of thought the way I do when I veer off course the same way.
She’s the kind of person who, by the end of a taxi ride to the airport, would know the driver’s kids’ names, the schools they go to, and the state of their health. Not only that, she would have given her advice on the schools in their area and the local doctors, and the driver would feel warm and friendly towards her, not annoyed as you might have thought, and the driver and family are probably coming to dinner when Audra returns home.
[Disclaimer: I chat with taxi drivers about all sorts of things, too, unless they’ve got their Bluetooth earpiece and handsfree phone going and are jabbering away a mile-a-minute to a friend (never the base, usually a mate or another driver) and ignoring me. I also sit in the front seat (which we do in Australia, particularly men do), unless it’s full of their books and lunch, which is how they claim their territorial rights. And once, I even wrote a statutory declaration for a court hearing for a driver who was accused of stopping in the wrong place to pick me up, ( he did, because I was in the wrong place, limping with a walking stick after an operation, and he took pity on me), so I gave him my name and address and said contact me if you get into trouble over this, so he did, but like Audra, I digress. ]
Audra knew everything about almost everybody at the ends of her long, spidery web of contacts.
“But there was no doubt that Audra knew people, and she knew things about people, and often she knew things about people who knew other people who knew people who had brothers who worked in the State Department and it was very helpful when your passport got stolen.”
The book begins light-heartedly enough, with Graham providing the predictable, stable counterpoint to his vivacious, pretty wife who keeps adopting stray houseguests. For example:
“Last year the locksmith who came to fix the dead bolt ended up sleeping in the den for two nights because his wife had stopped speaking to him due to the fact that he insisted on cutting the dead skin off his feet with a very small pair of scissors instead of using a pumice stone. (‘Have you ever heard of anything so ludicrous?’ Audra asked. Yes, he had: letting the locksmith sleep over. Although the locksmith had repaired their toaster for free.)”
Surprisingly, Graham just sets another place at the table. He is the chief cook and bottle-washer, and a gourmet cook he is. He loves it. He tells us often what he’s making and occasionally reminisces about a particularly fine meal. Turns out that his first wife, Elspeth, a beautiful, icy, blonde Scandinavian-looking lawyer, was a gourmet cook as well, and they shared that passion (among other things).
Audra wants them all to be friends, first and second wives, which leads to some interesting dynamics and Graham’s somewhat rekindled interest in her and her uncluttered, sleek, ultra-modern apartment compared to his cluttered, child-centred family mess.
Michael is a nice kid. Graham is just really realising what life is going to be like for Michael as he gets older and doesn’t have parents to try to make friends for him, and it breaks his heart. When they discover there is an Origami Club, Michael is ecstatic, and of course the members are much older and eccentric, but Michael loves it. There’s much talk of the various creations and how many folds they take. [I assume they are the real deal, but I’m not obsessed enough with accuracy to look it up. Maybe the author has lived through this in her life. There are worse fixations.]
They mostly don’t go out without Michael, since he was an extremely difficult baby and child, and they still fear he may have outbursts if they aren’t there to keep him calm. So Graham is feeling a bit tied down. Both he and Audra have had plenty of other adventurous liaisons, and she frequently refers openly to things she did with some other guy. But it didn’t mean anything and she didn’t know him very well, so that’s okay, then.
He’s starting to get nostalgic about Elspeth and her clean, Scandinavian style. They were married for several years. How bad could it have been?
“. . . often when Graham himself neatened up, when he pushed in the dining room chairs, or centered a candlestick on a table, Elspeth would come along right behind him and readjust the chair or candlestick by an inch. It was as though she didn’t want objects in the apartment to get the wrong idea and start thinking Graham was the boss.”
That bad. It’s no wonder he enjoys a good drop at the end of the day before and while he’s concocting his exotic meals.
“The first drink was unbeatable: delicious, relaxing, restorative— practically medicinal. He had read that alcohol didn’t enter your bloodstream for twenty minutes after the first sip, but everyone knew that was nonsense; it started working as soon as you poured it into the glass.”
[I couldn’t agree more. I know, alcohol is a poisonous destroyer of internal organs with few, if any, redeeming physical features – unless you’re living in the Old West and having your tooth pulled or a limb amputated, in which case they ply you with whiskey, but I can’t imagine there’s enough in the world to make either of those things bearable! Plus, I am a fan of the excellent book, "High Sobriety: my year without booze" by Aussie author Jill Stark, so I really do know better!]
I realise I’ve quoted a lot and believe me, it’s that kind of book. It’s like reading a continuing series of articles or maybe the script for a good sit-com. Almost too light, but with enough truths that you will probably recognise a few things about yourself that others may find quirky. I just hope they find you and me as appealing as Graham finds Audra.
Thanks to NetGalley and HarperCollins for the preview copy from which I’ve quote (so much!). Quotes may have changed, but I’m sure the spirit hasn’t.