Split-Level A Novel, by Sande Boritz Berger
Publication: She Writes Press; May 7, 2019
About the book: For young wife and mother, Alex Pearl, the post-Nixon 1970s offers pot parties, tie-dyed fashions, and the lure of the open marriage her husband wants for the two of them. Alex is a painter, stifled but loyal, and when she realizes just how far her husband’s eye has begun to wander, she’s faced with difficult choices about what marriage and family mean, and whether an “open” lifestyle mimicking communal living might be for her. Yearning for both greater adventure and intimacy, yet fearful of losing it all, Alex must figure out the truth of love and fidelity—at a pivotal point in an American Marriage.
And now for something completely different than everything I’ve been reading lately! I spotted this one on NetGalley and was intrigued because of the unique storyline: seventies, making tye-dye shirts, lots of pot, dissatisfaction in marriage, open marriage, and so on. This story is about Donny and Alex Pearl who are married with two young daughters. Alex isn’t satisfied but not completely sure why. Donny is basically a brat that hates his job, is immature, and does questionable/skeezy things from time to time. After some time they meet a couple, Charlie and Paula Bell. They become friends, have their kids hang out together, and then one thing leads to another… But once those lines are crossed, all four of them, but especially Alex, find themselves struggling with right and wrong, as well as, what their true feelings are.
So, there were a few things I wasn’t crazy about in this novel and I will start with that because there was much more that I loved. First, Not many of the characters were very likable and/or relatable. Perhaps just because the story is told only from Alex’s point of view, but I don’t feel like I really knew them. Actually, the only two main characters I felt invested in at all were Alex and Charlie, but again, it could have been a POV issue. Secondly, with the exception of Charlie, I don’t feel as if I knew what any of the characters looked like. Maybe I missed descriptions in the beginning, but other than Paula being sort of mousy and Donny enjoying giving Alex wide-eyed and smirky looks, I couldn’t tell you what anyone looked like.
What I loved about this novel was the realism in Berger’s writing! Her writing and execution of this plot felt personal as if it were her own story. We all know that it’s all fun and games until real feelings get involved and I feel that she captured Alex’s ever-changing and evolving feelings perfectly. One minute, there was this new exciting/taboo part of their lives, then the next minute she was jealous, but then she would be enamored with Charlie all over again. None of it made sense. Moods and feelings seemed to change like the weather, but it seemed honest to me. Messy, emotional, exciting, horrible, etc., but honest.
Moreover, with regards to the realism in the novel, were Alex’s struggles with her marriage and young motherhood, completely separate from the open marriage issue. A child starts wetting the bed again, her husband hates his job, yet wants to succeed, Alex isn’t completely successful at her artistic endeavors but keeps trying, her best friend is somewhat of a mean-girl and judgemental of Alex and Donny, etc. Granted, these are timeless challenges that all of us girls have faced, but that’s what I loved! This author took a woman from a time period when I was born, and delivered her story in a way in which I could empathize with many of her struggles. It was difficult to relate to all of her approaches and handling things, but it still served as a reminder about the internal and external battles and dialogue that go on in our lives.
Split-Level’s ending is very ambiguous and I am not a fan of these endings because I need concrete information about what will happen next in character’s lives. But what I did know, and hope is somewhat on point, is that by the time the novel ends Alex has grown a spine, quit being whiny and unhappy, and has taken back control of her life. Open marriage, swinging, swapping, whatever you want to call it, obviously was not the best thing for Alex and Donny. The ending left me feeling sad because of a somewhat lack of closure and the uncertainty about the futures for the main characters. However, it also left me hopeful that Alex was on her way to finding happiness while learning for sure what would not result in a happy ending.
*Thanks to NetGalley and She Writes Press for providing this review copy in exchange for my honest opinion.