Click here to read reviewer Luan Gaines' take on The Daylight Marriage.
In Pitlor’s The Daylight Marriage, a storm of hurricane proportions brews for climate scientist Lovell and his lovely wife, Hannah. As Pitlor carefully dissects her case for marriage, no matter how distant one gets from the madding crowd in place or time, finding true fulfillment can be just as bedeviling. The novel opens with an argument. Lovell resents that his wife does not seem to possess one single shred of financial responsibility. Hannah at this point has no idea how to turn things around. Although she only works part-time in a local flower shop, she’s finding it impossible to coordinate the lives of their teenage daughter, Janine, and their eight-year-old son, Ethan.
The argument becomes a catalyst for Lovell’s deep-seated resentment of his wife’s privileged background and the reality that she spent so much of her young, privileged life being raised by a
nanny on a waterfront estate in Martha’s Vineyard. Hannah was once a spirited beauty who treasured her independence, and as she puts it to Lovell, she isn't interested in being anyone's property. Still, Lovell expresses his anger, breaking Hannah’s precious glass perfume bottle and accusing her of trying to deflect blame and distract him from the matters at hand. The outburst is unexpected, filled with vitriol, perhaps symbolic of a couple who have gone far beyond their limits.
Like delicate snowdrops falling over a suburban existence, Pitlor’s self-contained drama transforms into something liquid, giving an unpredicted piquancy to her overriding themes. “Why is everything so hard for you?” Lovell screams at Hannah. Yet as “every molecule of rage flies away from him,” he aches to take back all that he had said. The damage is done, however, and Hannah is suddenly unmoored. With her car gone and her jacket and purse too, Lovell is forced to deflect the kids’ questions about their mother in whatever way he can. Even as he assures Ethan and Janine that she will soon show or at least call, he tries to hide the wave of dread mounting within him that his wife may never return.
Hannah’s sudden vanishing act becomes a catalyst for Pitlor’s intense exploration of unconditional parental love. As the days pass, neither Lovell, Ethan, nor Janine can believe that Hannah hasn’t contacted them. The police launch an investigation, at first pointing the finger at Lovell after he tells them about the argument. Hannah’s refusal to return takes its toll, her vanishing revealing Lovell’s years of unrelenting self-doubt over his ability to function as a caring parent. While Janine begins to act out, carelessly shaving her head and seeking fulfillment with the next-door neighbors
(two gay men who are planning to have a child), Ethan becomes lost in books, probably unaware of the absence or presence of any of them.
In introspective tones, Pitlor traces Hannah and Lovell’s back-story from the time they met to their hurried engagement
and their eventual marriage. As different as they are, they have the same overarching issue: coming to terms with the consequences of the past. While Lovell’s intricate scientific mind acts as thematic cement, binding the story together, it often puts him at odds with his kids and with the world around him. The symbolic pot at the end of the rainbow is how Lovell and Hannah come to an understanding of how fragile their happiness really is.
While Lovell’s mother attempts to comfort him through the crisis, his failure as a husband and as a father becomes a weight he carries on his back, the guilt aging him over the months. Pitlor devotes many passages to talk of death and healing and moving on as well as Hannah‘s disappearance, “the dribble of shadowy updates” and this dark unpredictable new world in which Lovell and the
children now live. “It was inconceivable that they were all in the center of this hell right now, and that he himself had brought them to this dark, airless place.”
So what did happen to Hannah? Couching her domestic drama within the framework of a missing-persons mystery, Pitlor also explores Hannah’s interior life. She recalls the reckless impulsivity of her first boyfriend, Doug, his sudden chivalry with pretty girls, and his tendency to forget bills. On a drive to Carson Beach for a quick walk, Hannah remembers
getting engaged to Doug. In this past life, she was a very different person than now, almost “giddy and hopeful.”
Although I thought the novel lost focus towards the end, Pitlor’s examination of a family in crisis is always tender and intuitive. There are no easy answers here, even after the author takes us literally right to the edge of the grave,
although Lovell, Ethan, and Janine do achieve a measure of peace in spite of the odds, even exceeding expectations as they work together to achieve a deeper understanding of themselves and each other.