And did you get what you wanted from this life, even so?The Raymond Carver poem "Late Fragment" is a favorite of Alison Rose, the main character in Meredith Maran's spectacular novel, A Theory of Small Earthquakes. When Alison joins a "Feminist Transformations" seminar at Oberlin College in the mid-1980s, she finds herself immediately drawn to Zoe, a free-spirited artist who awakes in Alison the desire to be loved and protected, but also brings back memories and fears that stemmed from her fractious relationship with her mother. Alison and Zoe move to Berkeley after Alison's graduation, and they build a life together.
And what did you want?
To call myself beloved, to feel myself beloved on the earth.
But when the Loma Prieta earthquake occurs in 1989, it exposes many of the cracks in their relationship, which magnified as they struggled to have a child. Alison settles into a more "normal" relationship with Mark, and they quickly have a son, Corey. Several months after Corey is born, Alison encounters Zoe again, and although she feels some initial betrayal, Zoe becomes a vital part of all of their lives, helping raise Corey and serving as a "goddessmother" counterpoint to Alison and Mark. But Alison is never completely comfortable in her lifeshe's never sure exactly what or who she wants, she's afraid that some of her secrets will be exposed, and most of all, she fears losing those she loves, even as her behavior often pushes them away.
A Theory of Small Earthquakes is a novel about love, family, parenthood, and being comfortable in your life, but it also is a tremendously fascinating reflection on the many different forms a family can take. While at times I worried the book might veer into soap opera-esque territory, Maran deftly keeps the story together, and at times I wasn't sure exactly what was going to happen. Some may take issue with the fluidity of Alison's sexuality, but it is clear from reading the book what motivates her most. I really enjoyed the characters, even while Alison's behavior irritated me at times, and in the end, I was moved, and truly fulfilled, by this story. This is a book for those who like to read about love, relationships, and human dynamicsI don't find this to be necessarily a "gay" novel in any way, just a tremendously well-written one.