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“Single Wife”

By Nina Solomon, Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill

Grace Brookman is in trouble. Her husband, Laz, has disappeared. This behavior is not without precedent; there have been other times that Laz has vanished. But never for this long. Instead of confiding her problem—in friends, in family—Grace goes through the elaborate charade of pretending Laz is still there. She leaves clues for the housekeeper, and invents excuses for her mother-in-law and her own parents, who openly adore her husband.

As fall turns to winter in New York City, Grace’s deceptions —putting socks and underwear in the laundry, leaving the toilet seat up—grow larger and more complex. Laz’s absence and the trail of clues she manufactures to conceal it become a kind of alternate life, a inetaphor for the man she wishes Lazwere, but comes to see is not. Slowly, insidiously, revelations about his past—a son who emerges froin the shadows, a scandal in his professional life—suggest that the husband Grace has and the husband she invents are not the same.

Solomon limns Grace’s despair and her under stated courage with a wry, deft touch. Most touching is Grace’s relationship with her parents, Milton and Paulette, and their best friends, the Sugarmans. This familiar Jewish clan is anxious yet caring, invasive yet self shdeluded. Milton and Paulette’s obsession with the weather (the number for the National Weather Service is on their speed-dial); Francine Sugarman’s embossed plastic containers filled with the food that she lovingly prepares and freezes—these are the specifically rendered details that make what might be otherwise generic types ring utterly clear and true.

When Grace’s father has a heart attack, she is finally moved to reveal her real predicament to her parents.

Her father begins to sob, covering his face with his hands. “What, Dad?” Grace asks,moving closer to him and putting her arm around his shoulder.

“I can’t help you,” he says, through his tears. For a Jewish father of an only daughter,there can be no more painful admission.