cover image Becoming Strangers

Becoming Strangers

Louise Dean, . . Harcourt, $23 (307pp) ISBN 978-0-15-101174-2

What keeps an unhappily married couple together? In her impressive debut, long-listed for the 2004 Man Booker, Dean dissects two hollow unions against the sultry backdrop of a Caribbean resort. George and Dorothy Davis, an English couple married more than 50 years, are worn down by neglect and boredom; Jan and Annemieke de Groot, Belgians married 31 years, are pulled apart by Jan's terminal cancer, which exposes issues they've suppressed for years. Dean is at her best in interior moments, when characters ponder their lives with private, brutal candor. "This was how they had always been," Annemieke reflects on her marriage, "his illness had simply developed the difference between them as light develops photographic film." As for George and Dorothy, they seem awfully reminiscent of Edward Albee's spiteful George and Martha. "You couldn't tell him that there was any marriage that wasn't equal measures love and hate," George Davis reflects, who decides bitterly that his wife now "wasn't content to have the last word; she had to have it twice." On holiday, friendships form, affairs spark and revelations startle. Adept at sharp dialogue and brisk plotting, Dean is also attentive to character development, choosing authenticity over sentimentality in a book that is poignant, often funny and unexpectedly redemptive. (Jan.)