We Think We Know the Ones We Love

An intriguing and engaging first page to a novel:

We think we know the ones we love.

Our husbands, our wives. We know them — we are them, sometimes; when separated at a party we find ourselves voicing their opinions, their taste in food or books, telling an anecdote that never happened to us but happened to them. We watch their tics of conversation, of driving and dressing, how they touch a sugar cube to their coffee and stare at it as it turns white to brown, then drop it, satisfied, into the cup. I watched my own husband do that every morning; I was a vigilant wife.

We think we know them. We think we love them. But what we love turns out to be a poor translation, a translation we ourselves have made, from a language we barely know. We try to get past it to the original, but we never can. We have seen it all. But what have we really understood?

One morning we awaken. Beside us, that familiar sleeping body in the bed: a new kind of stranger. For me, it came in 1953. That was when I stood in my house and saw a creature merely bewitched with my husband’s face.

Perhaps you cannot see a marriage. Like those giant heavenly bodies invisible to the human eye, it can only be charted by its gravity, its pull on everything around it. That is how I think of it. That I must look at everything around it, all the hidden stories, the unseen parts, so that somewhere in the middle — turning like a dark star — it will reveal itself at last.

It’s from The Story of a Marriage by Andrew Sean Greer. Set in 1950s San Francisco with plenty of local references, it’s a short, tightly knit story of a couple whose marriage gets turned upside down after an unexpected visit from a long lost friend. The writing is solid throughout though never hits the lyrical highs of the first page. Recommended particularly for Bay Area folk, though others might be interested as well: Greer commands wide respect among the literati.

4 Responses to We Think We Know the Ones We Love

  1. Didn’t you blog about this already? I bought that book last year and could have sworn it was because you suggested it. The opening lines are amazing; the ending was truly unexpected. A great read.

  2. Ben Casnocha says:

    Cool. Nope wasn’t my rec!

  3. DaveJ says:

    We think we know ourselves, too, with just as little validity.

  4. Krishna says:

    “…a creature merely bewitched with my husband’s face.” – Wow, I loved that description. I think the role of a writer is not to say what we all can say, but to whisper what we are unable to say. In that count, the author scores here.

    Writing, for that matter is a socially acceptable form of schizophrenia since ever so often the virgin sheet of paper is more real than what one has to say, and so often one regrets having marred it.

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