My rating: 3.5 of 5 stars
Lucy and Owen fled Brooklyn for the suburbs not long after their son, Wyatt, came along. In the perfect little town of Beekman, they have a beautiful old house, a yard full of chickens, and interact with a cast full of eclectic characters. Lucy also has her hands full with Wyatt, a challenging kid with autism. One evening, when some friends come over and the drinks flow freely, they mention their open marriage. At first, Lucy and Own are a bit shocked. But as the exhausted duo look around at their life, they begin to consider "the arrangement." Owen grabs a pad and a pen and they eke out some rules. It still seems like a joke, until Lucy says she wants to give the arrangement--a six-month experience where they each have an ongoing, no questions asked free pass in their marriage--a go. Surely nothing will go wrong, right?
This novel is a different, oddly intriguing read, offering an extremely realistic portrayal of marriage and raising children. Warm and fuzzy it is not, yet it's still engaging and features relatable characters. Lucy and Owen's exhaustion is palatable, as is Lucy's frustration and love for Wyatt, who is an intelligent, fun, and extremely challenging special needs kid. (You will grow to love him, even as you completely empathize with why poor Lucy might need a break--one of the definite strengths of the book.) For a good early portion of the novel, I found myself thinking I would be reading a quite grim look at parenthood and marriage. And it is, in many ways. After all, why are Lucy and Owen so willing to embark on the arrangement, you wonder? Are they bored with their life, with each other? Are they simply tired parents? What causes them to choose this? As the arrangement begins, their reactions to its ongoing presence in their lives is surprising, and Dunn does a good job at capturing some nuance in their character that you might not expect. These are real married people, with real issues.
Still, there are definitely some odd bits and pieces stuck into the story. It seems disjointed at times, and some of the characters and their stories seem to pop up at weird times, forcing you to remind yourself how they fit into Lucy and Owen's life and the town of Beekman (for we don't hear just from our main couple, but several others who live in town). The novel meanders at times, and I wouldn't call the ending closure, per se, though it falls in line with the realism of the novel.
Where Dunn shines is her humor, which slips through even some of the darker moments. Moments with Wyatt are perfectly captured. Lucy's friend, Sunny Bang, is one of the best things about this book, and you'll love every second featuring her. There's a scene at the town church with many of the local kids (and their pets) that is solely worth purchasing the entire book. Seriously, Dunn writes with a sharp wit, and it's one of the main reasons my rating upped to 3.5 stars. The book is often smartly funny and feminist, even if it has its depressing, wandering moments. It's a fascinating look at marriage, for sure, and I was certainly intrigued to see how the arrangement would play out. It was also a welcome break from all the thrillers I'd been reading lately, so thanks! If you like sharp and witty characters coupled with a psychological inside look at modern-day marriage, you'll find this one quite compelling. 3.5 stars.
I received a copy of this novel from the publisher and Netgalley (thank you) in return for an unbiased review. It is available everywhere as of 03/21/2017.