What is the Good Life?

The Good Life

By Marian Thurm

“Devastated” is the best word to describe how you will feel upon finishing Marian Thurm’s first-rate literary thriller. And since she employs “Chekhov’s gun” principle at the outset, introducing the weapon in the preface to the first chapter, you know something terrible will happen; you just don’t have a clue as to how bad it will be and how it will send shivers through you. To put it briefly, literary chills don’t get much better than this.

Roger and Stacy Goldenhar appear to be the perfect couple: she a bit quirky and socially conscious and once a social worker; he driven to success and lover of the high life, raking in bags of money as a commercial real estate developer specializing in shopping centers. They share much in common, not the least of which being born in the same New York City hospital, though years apart, graduating from Harvard, she as an undergraduate and he from the business school, the two even having the same birthday, April 20, common also to Adolf Hitler, which should have seemed ominous to the pair; too, both would live nowhere else but in Manhattan, parent two very smart young children, a girl and a boy. As a result of Roger’s business acumen and success, they live in a fabulous three-bedroom apartment on the upper Eastside, on Park Ave.

Well, at least they did live in that apartment for a while and they did enjoy a huge income. When the novel opens, we find them on a short vacation in Miami in Roger’s mother’s small and outdated apartment. As we learn about their life together, of their extended families and the joys and hardships of them, we also learn about Roger’s reversal of fortune, of their downgrade to a rather ordinary, smaller apartment a few blocks removed from Park, though still quite nice by most people’s standards, and of all the other shocks in his life. We begin to worry, then, worry as Stacy does, about Roger’s health, his mental state, and just how bad everything has gotten. But we readers know something Stacy doesn’t, not till later; we know about “Chekhov’s gun.”

Thurm masterfully builds suspense, for while we know from the get-go something bad will happen, we don’t have a clue as to what it will be, or even if it will happen. After all, Stacy proves a very positive person, quite strong when confronted with typical familial adversities, among them horrifying illnesses and the deaths of people dearest to us. Above all, even in the face of Roger’s withdrawal, his obsessive worry, his sleeplessness, his weight loss, and an incident in his early college days, she loves him.

Thrum’s novel is both a terrific thriller and a smart commentary on just what constitutes the good life of the title, and perhaps what might happen when we lose sight of what really is good in our lives. w/c

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