Tuesday, June 25, 2024

The Marriage Sabbatical by Lian Dolan

The Marriage Sabbatical
by Lian Dolan
288 pages
Published April 2024 by HarperCollins
Source: my copy courtesy of the publisher, in exchange for an honest review

Publisher's Summary: 
After twenty-three years of building careers and raising kids together, Jason and Nicole Elswick are ready for a break from their daily lives. Jason has spent years planning his dream sabbatical—ditching work for a nine-month-long motorcycle trip through South America. Problem is, that’s Jason’s dream, not Nicole’s. After years working retail and parenting in Portland, Nicole craves the sun of the Southwest and the artistic community in Santa Fe, where she wants to learn jewelry design.

A chance encounter at a dinner party presents a surprising—and intriguing—way out of their dilemma. Over a little too much wine, Jason and Nicole’s married neighbors sing the praises of the 500 Mile Rule: their policy of enjoying themselves however they wish—and with whomever they wish—when they’re temporarily far apart. It seems like the perfect solution: nine months pursuing their own adventures—with a bit of don’t-ask-don’t-tell—and then a return to their shared lives. It’ll be a sabbatical from their marriage as well as their day jobs.

As Jason bikes his way across a continent and Nicole reclaims the art she’s long neglected, they discover the pleasures and pitfalls of the 500 Mile Rule, confronting temptations of all kinds, uncomfortable truths about themselves, and gaining new perspective on their partnership.

But all sabbaticals come to an end…then what?

My Thoughts: 
When the publisher approached me about reading and reviewing Lian Dolan's latest book, there was no hesitation on my part, despite the fact that I had a lot of books I already needed to read and review. Dolan is a no-brainer for me; I've read and enjoyed all of her books. 

Here is what I know about them: 
  • there will be humor 
  • there will be relationships of all kinds to explore;
  • the setting will become a part of the story;
  • a look at marriage and what we know and don't know about the people we're married to;
  • some of the characters will feel like stereotypes but it always feels like they are proving that there's a reason those stereotypes exist; and 
  • and the ending will be exactly what you'd expect but also not the neat and tidy ending that always strikes me as so unrealistic. The Marriage Sabbatical gave me all of those things. 
**This is where I got to when my review apparently stopped saving and I'm struggling to recreate what I want to say, but I'll give it my best shot and cross my fingers that it saves this time. 

The Marriage Sabbatical gave me all of that as well as a couple of things I've never gotten from Dolan before. One was a man's point of view. The other was the premise of a married couple giving each other permission to have physical relationships with other people. It was this idea that came to Dolan first and then she created the book around that idea. But, if I'm honest (and I did say I would give the book an honest review), I struggled with this idea. From the idea of being separated from my spouse (and my children - although theirs are both overseas) for months on end with very little communication to the idea of either or both of us having intimate relations with other people, this was a tough one for me. It helped to find that both Jason and Nicole got what they needed from the experiment. I don't want to get too much into their relationships with others; but I was relieved to see that Dolan didn't make it easy nor without a little discomfort on both parties part. 

The stereotypes felt a little less organic this time around; the pieces just happening to fall into place a little less believable - a little more suspension of disbelief was required; and it felt, at times, a little too much like a PR piece for Santa Fe (although it was a good one - I really want to go there now!). 

Still, I liked the way Dolan explored all kinds of relationships, I liked that things didn't work out exactly how the characters expected them to work out, and I really liked Nicole rediscovering herself. She'd been in mom mode for so many years and for so long had felt like what she did for work was "less than." That's something so many women suffer from. She pushed herself out of her comfort zone, leaned into her strengths and found out how much they mattered to others, and gained a confidence in herself that showed in the way she presented herself. In the end, I got what I wanted - both an ending that is happy for the characters while also not being entirely tidy. 

This would make a really good book club selection - so much to discuss! 

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