Close Relations, by Susan Isaacs

>> Tuesday, July 26, 2005

While I wait for Susan Isaacs' latest, Any Place I Hang My Hat, I decided to reread a couple of old favourites by her, which I hadn't opened in a few years. First up was Close Relations.

It was a situation from which half-hour television comedies are made. MARCIA--in tonight's episode, Marcia Green's warm and winning and wise and wonderful Jewish family reminds her that she is thirty-five, divorced, and childless.
That's Marcia on her close relations. True, she's one of the best speechwriters around in the tough world of New York's smoke-filled rooms, but her family wants something else for her. No, not that Irish person she's living with. Another doctor, or at least a dentist.

But Marcia claims she's happy, getting plenty of the two things that exhilarate her most: sex and politics. She's not looking for commitment, and certainly not looking for a wealthy, Harvard-educated man-about-town who is every mother's dream. Yet as wise mothers everywhere are fond of saying: you never know.
I didn't remember just how good Close Relations was. And it is, very. Most of it is no more than very good, very, very solid, but the final 100 pages are simply wonderful. An A-.

I guess you could say the book might be a bit slow at first. The actual action does take a while to get started, because the author keeps meandering and going into tangents, but what fascinating tangents these are! The way she writes this is one of the main reasons why I love Isaacs so much. She goes back and forth in Marcia's life, into her childhood, her adolescence, her first marriage, her post-divorce bout of promiscuity, her life in New York as a speechwriter, and of course, her relationship with her family throughout this all. You really get to know Marcia, how she thinks and why, how she reacts to things.

Such emphasis on one character, of course, only works if she's interesting, and Marcia is. I also liked her immensely (not strictly necessary for a good read, but it helps). I was amazed, actually, by how much I liked her. Someone who "allows" herself to be treated the way she did by her boyfriends, I'd usually just despise for being an idiot, but not Marcia. I understood her completely, even without having experienced what she did.

When Isaacs describes her life after her divorce, the way she kept sleeping with creeps who were awful in bed and out and treated her as if they were doing HER a favour... God, that almost made me cry, especially when Marcia describes how she felt when she saw couples in love in the street, doing normal "couple in love" stuff, how she felt she was on the inside looking in, unable to break into that world. The same with her boyfriend, Jerry, the Pretty Boy. He was such a jerk, using her, and yet I understood her still being with him.

Isaacs succeeded in making me care for her. I didn't write her off as a weak idiot and wish I were reading about someone else. What all this did was make me really want her to find someone that made her happy and treated her respectfully. I cared for this character so much that I needed to see her get what she deserved, a pay-off for all the mediocre lovers, cold mother and manipulative family.

And when the the time for a pay-off comes, what a pay-off it is! The final 100 pages are just brillliant. When I'd finished the book, I found myself going back and rereading them again and again. This is when a wonderful romance develops, the most wonderfully romantic romance, with a hero who's excellently developed in spite of the short pages devoted to him. This guy is just wonderful, and Isaacs made me care for him almost as much as I did for Marcia, and root just as hard for him to get the woman he so obviously deserved. ?

Even more amazingly, considering that I knew he was the best thing that could ever happen to Marcia, I still understood her reluctance to really get involved with him. I keep saying this, but it's true, I totally understood Marcia. I understood her feelings for her family and how she could still have an instict to rebel against them. The instinct to cut off her nose to spite her face, to not get involved with David just because it was what her family had been trying to manipulate her into, well, that might not be very rational (it's downright dumb, actually), but it's just so very human! And I think it worked because Marcia worked through it and conquered it.

I closed the book with a huge smile on my face.


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