Sunday, February 12, 2017

Book Review: "A Separation" by Katie Kitamura

I've ranted previously about how much I dislike when books are marketed as "the next..." So rather than rant, let me get the record straight right off the bat: despite what you might have seen, Katie Kitamura's A Separation is not "...the literary Gone Girl of 2017." I liked the former a little more than the latter, but I didn't feel Kitamura's book was rooted in a mystery as Gillian Flynn's was, so if that's what you're looking for, this book isn't for you.

A woman and her husband have decided to separate after five years of marriage. But while they had both decided there was no chance they would reconcile, her husband, Christopher, asked that they keep their decision private, and perhaps hold off on actually moving forward with a divorce for a short while.

"Could we keep it between us? I had hesitated, it wasn't that I disagreed with the sentiment—the decision was still new at that point, and I imagined Christopher felt much as I did, that we had not yet figured out how to tell the story of our separation. But I disliked the air of complicity, which felt incongruous and without purpose."

Despite their decision, she is still surprised to receive a phone call from her mother-in-law, Isabella, saying she has been unable to reach Christopher. She is more surprised when she finds out that several weeks ago Christopher told his mother that the two of them were traveling to Greece, a decision obviously she was not aware of, nor was she intended to be included in. Isabella is concerned that she hasn't been able to reach her son, so she urges the woman to travel to Greece immediately and find him—ever the control freak, Isabella even paid for the flight.

When she arrives in Greece, she finds that he apparently hired a driver several days earlier to travel, and didn't return when he said he would. No one is sure where he is but she imagines he is off gallivanting around somewhere, perhaps with another woman. She makes the decision to wait at the hotel a few days, and the things she discovers about Christopher while she waits for his return reinforces her desire to ask him a for a divorce as soon as possible.

When Christopher's parents arrive, she makes the decision to continue keeping her secret from them, despite her anger with Christopher for the detritus—physical and emotional—he left in his wake, and for putting her in this position in the first place. But once you have told a lie, how do you renege? Are you stuck living this lie for as long as those who've been told it remain in your life?

This was an intriguing, well-told, yet frustrating book. Thanks to the marketing hype, I definitely expected more of a mystery-type story, but this is really a meditation on how little we know the people we love, and how easy it is to put blinders on with regard to their faults until you reach a breaking point. It's also an examination of honesty, betrayal, estrangement, giving up your dreams to settle for what's in front of you, and how often we replicate the relationships of our parents.

Katie Kitamura is a really talented storyteller, despite the fact that she didn't really punctuate many of her longer paragraphs beyond commas and an occasional period. I just wish that in the end, this story offered more satisfaction than it did for me.

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