THE COURT OF COMMON PLEAS

Alexandra Marshall, Author . Houghton Mifflin $23 (304p) ISBN 978-0-395-96794-2

Although Marshall (Something Borrowed) has proven herself to be a keen-eyed and meticulous observer of marriage, her latest novel is a weary, joyless glimpse into a lopsided Cleveland partnership. Audrey, almost 50, and Gregory, 63, have been faithfully and contentedly married for 20 years, raising their two daughters in the upper-middle-class suburbs of Cleveland Heights. Yet when Audrey, a nurse, breaks the news that she has just been accepted into medical school, Gregory, a judge who is still reeling from the premature death of his dear friend and colleague Rob Wallace, (over)reacts as if his wife has betrayed him. Why has she not told him of her desire to become a doctor, and what else is she hiding? Manipulating constantly shifting points of view, Marshall tirelessly cross-examines each spouse's burdened intentions through years of plotting a life together: Gregory still bears the unhealed wound of his father's early suicide, while Audrey has not properly expressed her resentment at her husband's resistance to change. The heavy-handed layering of detail feels obligatory rather than essential, and when she does introduce a compelling plot twist, such as Gregory's transference of amorous feeling to Wallace's widow, Karen, Marshall dampens the effect by making Karen as unappealing as possible. The couple's two college-aged daughters are similarly and ungenerously criticized by their parents as being unsympathetic. There isn't much to delight readers in this dry, gray-shaded portrait of a marriage, and with three far-fetched similes and four metaphors on the first page alone, the reading experience is tedious indeed. Author tour.(July 17)

Reviewed on: 07/02/2001
Release date: 07/01/2001
Paperback - 304 pages - 978-0-618-25753-9
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