Sunday, August 22, 2010
Cars From a Marriage by Debra Gallant
"I've always thought of cars as places to die. That's what high school driver's ed did to me."
That's the oh-so-catchy opening of Debra Gallant's tale of marriage as told through cars. We first meet Ivy Honeycutt just as she has transplanted herself from the Virginia of her upbringing to a New York City that's not quite made up of the Hollywood myths she'd imagined. When she attends a supposedly free open mic comedy night that ends with two $4 Diet Cokes she can't afford, she finds herself being rescued from humiliation and total meltdown by Ellis Halpern, a stand-up comedian and a rare New York City car owner.
Told in chapters alternating between Ivy's and Ellis's points of view, Cars From a Marriage follows the couple from their initial trip to meet Ellis's mother to their moving to suburban New Jersey to raise their two daughters, one serious and studious, the other pretty and precocious. The chapters, which move along chronologically but skip several years in between in favor of highlighting the more momentous events of the marriage, each begin with the car the couple happens to be driving during that time period, usually one forced on Ellis by Ivy's well-meaning Buick dealer father. Soon Ellis is in L.A. more and more often grooming new talent for his PR agency and Ivy is returning to writing school, and the couple's marriage is becoming something they'd never dreamed of.
Cars From a Marriage is a deceptively easy read with a serious story to tell. Gallant's writing flows easily from event to event and captures the nuances of a marriage that sows the seeds of its own struggle from its very first stages. The writing is uncomplicated, at times laugh out loud funny, at others terribly sad and ironic. The ease with which Cars From a Marriage reads would almost lead you to believe that it's a fluffy story, but it's certainly not. It's a far more serious story about a woman whose fears and insecurities have kept her from living and a man who loves his wife, but always envisioned a bit more for himself than a needy housewife, two kids, and the controlled chaos of suburbia.
Perhaps it was the easy, uncomplicated writing style that always had me expecting fluff when there was none to be had, that made it possible for the ending to catch me unawares. It was abrupt and not quite what I was expecting. I thought that the end of Ivy's story could have done with a bit more fleshing out, thought I also fear that had it been fleshed out, it might have taken the focus away from the marriage and put it only on her, which I don't think was the intent. Ultimately, though, despite the unexpected end, I enjoyed Cars From a Marriage. It's a compulsively readable and honest exploration of an imperfect marriage that is as smart and perceptive as it is entertaining.
(Thanks to the author for sending me a copy for review.)