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Book Review: The Good Life

Author Marian Thurm's latest novel, "The Good Life," crafts a suspenseful story of how the lives of a wealthy couple from the Upper East Side of Manhattan descends into chaos.

Book critic Joan Baum has this review.

Marian Thurm’s The Good Life is one of those novels that mimic everyday existence so closely, the way people talk, how they behave, that it’s uncanny, and  particularly so here because of the way the author slowly but compellingly develops a horrific tragedy that evolves out o f ordinary circumstances. Stacy and Roger could be people we know, their back stories full of familiar, middle-class childhood-to-young adult pleasures and pain.  As the novel opens, they enjoy "the good life" thanks to Roger’s job as a high end real estate developer.  Stacy is happy as a social worker, though family is her main care. When they met a decade earlier in Ye Olde Muffin Shoppe in Harvard Square they discovered they shared a birth date, April  20th,  along with  Hitler. They laugh, they flirt. Though Stacy saw the white-gold Rolex around Roger’s wrist," it held "little meaning for her."  Weeks later, lying in bed with Roger, she casually asked about its value, and he replied that it cost $15,000.  He assumed that she understood  it was important to show off in his line of work, including having a luxury apartment in Upper Manhattan.  But, as the author writes, Stacy "very politely pretended" that she understood. She really didn’t care then or later about the trappings of wealth.  Roger did though, too much. Much too much.

The opening chapter of when they met, full of gentle humor and the hesitant talk of an emerging relationship, could be a scene in a sweet daytime soap, as the reader comes to see that, despite their differences (he’s 9 years older and divorced) and attitudes toward money, they will come together in a deepening love for each other and for the adored two children they have shortly after they’re married.

The narrative alternates between Stacy and Roger as they offer glimpses into their  separate lives with their families and, a decade later, in their present-tense  married life.  Except for, and it’s quite an  "except for," the novel actually begins with an ominous present-tense italicized prologue: "While his wife, Stacy, is busy with their young son and daughter at the egg-shaped swimming pool adjacent to his mother’s condo, Roger Goldenhar will drive in his rented Toyota to an indoor, air-conditioned shooting range in Pompano Beach where they also happen to sell guns and ammo . . . " The last sentence on the page has Roger saying,  "and one small box of 9 mm bullets, please."As the narrative goes back and forth between past and present, the time frame between them narrows, as the author skillfully drives the plot to its terrible, shocking  conclusion.

I’m told by the publisher, by the way, that the author based this tale on a real-life story, with an even worse outcome.  Regardless, The Good Life will likely linger in memory for quite some time and generate discussion. How might WE have handled Roger’s growing depression? Are there situations which neither professional help nor pharmaceutical assistance can prevent?

Joan Baum is a recovering academic from the City University of New York, who spent 25 years teaching literature and writing. She covers all areas of cultural history but particularly enjoys books at the nexus of the humanities and the sciences.