A Perfect Arrangement
Fiction; Contemporary Literature
Having recently made a decision to cut down on the meaningless, middle-of-the-road stuff I’d been glutting on for too long, this was one that had been sitting in the queue for awhile and was ALMOST tossed into the donate pile because I thought it had far too much of a ‘throwaway’ vibe about it. But I had two weeks off for the holidays and had time to clear the stack a bit before the new year, so I went ahead and dipped in. I’m VERY glad I did, because it was a complete and very pleasant surprise.
The synopsis for this book is really a little misleading, in my opinion. Not that it’s incorrect; it just doesn’t give a well-rounded idea of the scope. On the face of it the story appears to be yet another cautionary tale about a young-ish, successful yuppie couple who hire an au pair who isn’t the person she claims to be, in more ways than one. I know – yawn alert! It sounds like a typical setup for a “Hand that Rocks the Cradle” type horror novel, and I had no interest in that at all. However, I’m glad I gave it a chance because this novel is far more layered and complex than that.
While it’s true that Randi, the au pair Mirella and Howard hire to care for their two young children, is not being truthful about who she is and where she comes from and there is definitely a lurking sense of danger prevalent throughout the story, the genius of the storytelling here is in the examination of a marriage that itself is not what it appears. Few marriages are, and maybe that’s the message we ultimately take from it. Everyone has secrets, big and small, and sacrifices are made whether we want to make them or not, or whether we even acknowledge them. Perhaps without fully realizing it, each person brings into the relationship their own deeply-seated ideas of what life should be, what a home should look like, what a house should contain, how children should be raised, how we judge ourselves and our spouses through our own lens and then through the lenses of others, and what we allow others to see. It takes a lot of energy to maintain every part of that machinery, be it calculated or genuine, and what happens when all of those feelings and ideas clash irrevocably?
There is no neat wrap-up at the end, but rather, a sense that something has been both lost and gained, or at least possible to gain. Howard and Mirella are at times infuriatingly flawed and heartbreakingly real.
I had not heard of Suzanne Berne before, but I am VERY impressed and will look for more from her. I know she has several novels in her backlist.