Frank’s novel captures the essence of a marriage, the endurance of friendship and the bonds that connect two men for decades. As Neil Abercrombie engages in elaborate preparations for a dinner party in honor of his friend Mike Spender, his wife, Rachel, draws the story of men’s relationship from her husband. Neil stirs and chops while Rae pours their glasses of wine, lays out linens, and gently prods her husband for the details she has never been privy to before this night.
A Scot with a distinct accent, Neil meets Mike in the ‘70s, a long-haired, larger-than-life personality with a vast appetite for life. Mike is the proud owner of an aquarium store, Finny Business, a local star of sorts in the Northern California town of Mira Flores. Over time, Mike loses those early good looks, though his charm never abates. Marriage to the taciturn Tilda (“Her face was absent: as if its owner had simply gone somewhere more interesting.”) produces a daughter of remarkable beauty, Addie. During the years of his bachelorhood, Neil becomes intricately enmeshed with the Spenders, late to wed Rachel.
At last Rachel is learning the intimate details of the friendship that has bound her husband to this other man and his family. But this is essentially Neil and Rachel’s story as reflected through their communication about the others, Neil’s reluctance to part with the specifics of a personal history, and Rae’s outsider standing with the group, though she does her best to be part of the whole. More relevant—and revelatory—is Rachel’s perception of her husband through the prism of his behavior as Mike’s health deteriorates and Tilda’s drinking exacerbates an already troubled marriage.
Though Neil is an educated, sophisticated man, Rachel is a jewel, fitting herself into her husband’s world like a well-worn glove. She can hardly be blamed for intuiting the layers of the relationship not obvious to her husband, his years of ignoring Mike’s habitual cheating or Tilda’s increasing consumption of alcohol throughout the day. Certainly, when Neil is forced to face his best friend’s mortality and the vastness of that loss, Rachel is there with a loving word and a soothing touch, a woman who understands her man with all his flaws—and it is enough for her.
A “marriage” of four is always difficult, especially when one comes late to the game. In elegant, lyrical prose, Frank explores the two marriages, ever grounded in the present and an acute awareness of the environment, both physical and emotional. Frank’s lovely language lifts this story above the usual with the reliable reporting of her senses, whether describing Neil’s gourmet meal preparations, the birdsong outside the window, the emotional tenor of a gathering or the intimate moments between a man and woman when hurt trembles in the air. Frank’s consciousness of life’s details is exquisite and rare.