Published October 2018 by Farrar, Straus, and Giroux
Source: my ecopy courtesy of the publisher, through Netgalley, in exchange for an honest review.
Gretchen and Steve have been married for a long time. Living in San Francisco, recently separated, with two children and demanding jobs, they’ve started going to a marriage counselor. Unfolding over the course of ten months and taking place entirely in the marriage counselor’s office, John Jay Osborn’s Listen to the Marriage is the story of a fractured couple in a moment of crisis, and of the person who tries to get them to see each other again. A searing look at the obstacles we put in our own way, as well as the forces that drive us apart (and those that bring us together), Listen to the Marriage is a poignant exploration of marriage—heartbreaking and tender.
At only 140 pages, this was a quick read with much to recommend it. But I found myself wanting both more and less from it.
What I Liked:
Osborn has taken nearly a year of a marriage on the brink of divorce and narrowed it down to just the time the couple spends in the office of their marriage counselor. The reader never really leaves the office and yet Osborn manages to bring in the couple's children, friends, and lovers. I enjoyed the tight focus on Steve's and Gretchen's emotions, reactions, interactions, and perspectives.
I have to say that both the title of this book and the cover are perfect. Those might seem like little things, as though I'm scraping for things to like but I actually very much appreciated the fact that both tell the reader a lot about the story up front.
What I Didn't Like:
Osborn works to make the counselor, Sandy, a full person in the story but it didn't work for me. While her thoughts and guidance are important, her back story is not relevant. If Osborn intended for it to be relevant, he needed to have included more of it, made is so. I haven't been to marriage counseling, so I can't speak to the reality of how Sandy handles this couple. But it didn't feel terribly professional for Sandy to divulge details about her personal life, either.
Likewise, I can't speak to Sandy's methods. But when Osborn even has Gretchen questioning Sandy's method, it did make me wonder. And I'm not sure about being so in Sandy's head. If we hadn't been, I wouldn't have gotten so tired of Osborn's use of trains on tracks as an analogy for the way the counseling sessions were going.
In the end, I would have liked the book to have less about Sandy and more about Steve and Gretchen.