Wednesday, August 2, 2017

Book Review: "George and Lizzie" by Nancy Pearl

Did you ever meet a couple who are married or dating, and you wonder what it is that keeps them together? Reading Nancy Pearl's George and Lizzie is kind of like that.

George Goldenrosen and Lizzie Bultmann couldn't be more different. George is affable, earnest, maybe even a little goofy. His parents loved him and his brother (and loved each other), and his father was a successful orthodontist in Tulsa, where although he was known as "the Jewish orthodontist," he treated not only all of the Jewish kids, but others as well.

Lizzie, on the other hand, was raised by two behavioral psychologists, who approached parenting as more of an experiment, and worked to control their daughter's behavior like they did their lab rats'. Everything she did, how they responded, and how she reacted were fodder for their research, and so much of her life was part of their academic legacy. But when in a moment of weakness Lizzie admitted her participation in a morally questionable activity she called "The Great Game," she didn't expect it to haunt her.

George and Lizzie have a meet-cute at a bowling alley when Lizzie and George are both students at the University of Michigan, Lizzie as an undergraduate, George as a dental student. Lizzie is nursing her wounds after the end of a relationship she thought was "the one," so she had no expectations of meeting anyone else, but George was instantly smitten. And Lizzie? Well, Lizzie was certainly fond of George...

As their relationship blossoms, Lizzie knows that George isn't really what she wants, but she doesn't seem to have the strength to object. While their different philosophies on love, relationships, and marriage cause friction, George knows he wants to spend the rest of his life with Lizzie. It isn't quite what she wants, but she doesn't know what the alternative really is. Is it settling if she loves George but feels unfulfilled?

George and Lizzie follows the couple through their first 10 years of marriage, until a long-hidden secret of Lizzie's surfaces, forcing her to finally decide what path she wants to follow. In the meantime, the book shifts back and forth between the two, and also shifts back and forth through both of their lives, detouring all over the place to briefly profile other people who have a peripheral role in the story. Sometimes the chapters serve more as vignettes than anything that actually advances the plot.

Nancy Pearl, who is a books commentator for National Public Radio, definitely knows how to tell a story. Parts of the book are entertaining, even funny, while others are poignant and thought-provoking. But in the end, I found Lizzie really unlikable and couldn't understand why anyone, much less someone like George, continued to want to be with her. At one point in the book he tells her that she is the most self-centered person he's ever known, and another time he says that she has the emotional maturity of a young child. While some of that can be attributable to her odd childhood, she doesn't do much to break out of that rut as an adult, and continuing to cling to old memories and regrets, while understandable, doesn't make her a particularly sympathetic character.

There's still a good story in here, but it requires more patience, as well as work to unearth it, than most books do.

NetGalley and Touchstone provided me an advance copy of the book in exchange for an unbiased review. Thanks for making this available!

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