Tuesday, April 03, 2012

A Trigonometry of Relationships - Mini-Review of "The First Warm Evening of the Year" by Jamie M. Saul

Jamie M. Saul's new novel, "The First Warm Evening of the Year" is populated with ghosts. Spectral protagonists lurk in every chapter, beginning with the recently deceased Laura. Knowing she was dying, Laura instructed her lawyer to make a posthumous request to a friend she had not seen in twenty years for him to serve as the executor of her estate. Thus was Geoffrey Tremont ripped from his easy life as a voice-over actor in New York City and thrust into the middle of complex relational trigonometric functions in the sleepy Berkshire town of Shady Grove. There are sines, cosines, tangents and secants of triangular relationships running in every direction, providing clues on how to take the measure of the book's characters.

Geoffrey meets Marian, also a friend of Laura. Together, for almost twenty years these two women were the "young widows of Shady Grove," each mourning in her own way the loss of Marian's Buddy and Laura's Steve. Throughout the course of the narrative, Geoffrey and Marian warily and oh-so-cautiously take the measure of one another to figure out how they should responsibly deal with the instant attraction they felt for each other. There is Rita to consider, Geoffrey's convenient and casual girlfriend in the City; there is also Eliot, Marian's safe companion of long standing. Geoffrey and Marian are like two lumps of anthracite coal - reluctant to ignite, but full of pent-up potential energy that may begin to glow and throw off a great deal of heat under the right conditions.

Geoffrey's gay psychiatrist brother, Alex and Laura's ne'er-do-well brother, Simon, the failed ballet dancer, add a satisfying subplot and scrim against which Geoffrey's actions and motives are reflected.

Along the way, as I read this novel, I was often reminded of one of my favorite Woody Allen films, "Interiors." There is not much external actions, but there is constant inner turmoil and inter-relational complexities being revealed and explored. The writing is rich and the story is well told. We want Geoffrey and Marian to find a way to dispel the ghosts that would keep them at arm's length from one another.



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