Last Couple Standing
by Matthew Norman
Publication: Ballantine Books; March 17, 2020
About: The Core Four have been friends since college: four men, four women, four couples. They got married around the same time, had kids around the same time, and now, fifteen years later, they’ve started getting divorced around the same time, too. With three of the Core Four unions crumbling to dust around them, Jessica and Mitch Butler take a long, hard look at their own marriage. Can it be saved? Or is divorce, like some fortysomething zombie virus, simply inescapable?
To maximize their chance at immunity, Jessica and Mitch try something radical. Their friends’ divorces mostly had to do with sex—having it, not having it, wanting to have it with other people—so they decide to relax a few things. Terms are discussed, conditions are made, and together the Butlers embark on the great experiment of taking their otherwise happy, functional marriage and breaking some very serious rules.
Jessica and Mitch are convinced they’ve hit upon the next evolution of marriage. But as lines are crossed and hot bartenders pursued, they each start to wonder if they’ve made a huge mistake. What follows is sexy, fun, painful, messy, and completely surprising to them both. Because sometimes doing something bad is the only way to get to the heart of what’s really good.
Last Couple Standing is the upcoming novel by author Matthew Norman about a couple, Jessica (a therapist) and Mitch (a high-school English teacher), who out of their best friends, ‘The Core Four,’ they are the last couple still married. The four couples met about the same time in college, got married at about the same time, had kids, and so on. But at the start of the novel, the third couple in their group has just finalized their divorce, leaving Jessica and Mitch as the last couple still together. So what does an otherwise happily married couple decide to do? They decide to “evolve” in hopes of saving their marriage. They have a few conversations about it, establish some ground rules, and then they are free to be with other people.
First, let me rant about other reviews I’ve seen saying that they just couldn’t enjoy this book because of the subject matter… Hello people! Did you read the blurb? That drives me absolutely crazy when people write poor reviews for a book because they didn’t agree with the subject matter. When the blurb explains what’s going to happen, don’t read it if it’s something you don’t like and/or agree with!
Moving on from that, I am so glad to have discovered this author. Matthew Norman’s witty banter and portrayal of married life with small children is fabulous! Very early on in the story, the reader learns that Mitch has traumatized his small children after taking them to a free showing of E.T. at the theater. What parent hasn’t sat down with their kids to watch a “kid movie,” only to learn that it’s much more frightening than you remembered or frightening when you weren’t expecting it??? I think I did that to my daughter with the animated movie Iron Giant.
The bulk of the novel, of course, focuses on Jessica and Mitch’s marriage, adjustments to their friends’ divorces, and adjustments to their new lifestyle and marital rules. But there are several subplots which at first glance, may seem a little bit much for one book, but ended up making it that much more lovable. There is teenager Luke next door who is a student of Mitch’s, their babysitter, his parents are divorcing, and he’s developed a crush on bad-girl Scarlet. Then there is Scarlet who is also Mitch’s student and is a patient of Jessica’s due to her impulsive, dangerous, and sometimes illegal choices. I was rooting for them both the entire time and loved the amazing connection between the two seemingly different characters.
Another huge part of the novel was Mitch and Jessica adjusting to their friendships with the split-up ‘Core Four’ members. Jessica was coming to terms with her three female friends out partying, on the prowl for men, and discussing the frequency of dick pics texted to them by potential dates/hook-ups. Mitch had one friend dating a much younger woman who had started leaving extra buttons undone on his shirt and wearing cologne, another killing himself in Crossfit, and one trying to establish a new norm for his children post-divorce.
Jessica and Mitch try their new rules and “evolving,” but coupled with their divorced friends’ slow realizations that the grass is not always greener, they start to wonder if what they really want in life is what they have had all along.
Last Couple Standing is a hilarious novel that certainly has a unique storyline regarding marriage, relationships, parenting, and friendship. I enjoyed all of the characters, although, surprisingly, Jessica was my least favorite of them all. Mitch stole my heart from the beginning and I honestly felt as if I related to his character more than Jessica’s. I feel almost anti-feminist saying this, but her desire to try new rules in their marriage seemed selfish, as to where Mitch’s agreement to the new rules felt like something he was doing simply to appease his wife.
This book is a quick and fun read despite the heavy topics included in the plot and subplots. It made me laugh out loud several times and as I said before, I fell in love with almost all of the characters. I definitely recommend this one to readers who want a funny and unique take on growing up and growing apart from one another. Most of all, I’m so happy to have discovered Matthew Norman and can’t wait to read more from him in the future!
*Thanks to NetGalley and Ballantine Books for providing this ARC in exchange for my honest opinion.