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.

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