Beach Books

Unfulfilled Wishes, Mid-Life Changes

The Beachcomber
By PAT JOHNSON | Sep 04, 2012

From the first page, Denting the Bosch (St. Martin’s Press) by Teresa Link sucks you in as she describes a homesick New Yorker stuck in sunny California, hungering to experience a howling northeast winter storm that is being forecast on TV. 

It’s a great read, striking in its original writing, while dealing with adult themes of adultery, unfulfilled wishes, divorce and mid-life changes. Like the Neil Simon plays, “Plaza Suite” and “The Four Seasons,” Link takes us on a stereoscopic view of the lives of three mid-life couples that have formed a friendship. We first meet Adele and Drew, Sylvia and Carl, Maggie and Paul as they return from a sylvan weekend away that was just a bluff and a blind, where Sylvia and Carl are concerned. Sylvia’s husband Carl is a CFO in a chain store and has a thing going on with his secretary, a blousy Russian émigré.          

Adele is shocked and a bit threatened by the news; she’s a homemaker and unfulfilled architect, who subjugated her career for her doctor husband Drew. After 9/11, they moved from Bedford, New York to San Diego, a move that has awakened Drew to an aggressive, youthful exuberance but has had the opposite effect on Adele, who has become more homesick with each passing year and more shrewish than her husband would like. Now that the children are gone – they have raised three adult boys – will their marriage survive?

Maggie is angry with Carl for his treatment of Sylvia. She is passionately political, but her husband, Paul, seems so steady – he’s in middle management at an engineering firm. So how can it be he has kept a secret their entire married life? Before the book is done, Maggie has a secret of her own.

These couples are firmly “co-dependent,” spending much of their waking hours wondering about how solid is their position in their spouse’s affection.

But it’s intelligent thought. Here’s Maggie, the political animal, thinking of her emotionally-distant husband Paul: Sometimes at the end of the day, Maggie would be affected with a kind of panicky melancholy, a sense of accidental momentum having thrust her into someone else’s life. She would flail around, mentally, trying to find an anchor, a bellwether to cling to. At dinner she would telegraph her need to her husband, hover anxiously, hoping he would catch her and ground her, fasten her securely to their life.

Listen to the interior dialogue as the unsophisticated Sylvia finally breaks through her denial over her pending divorce from Carl: Now as she stirred milk into her coffee, a smothering sadness dropped over her, shooing away the momentary pleasure she’d taken in her orderly kitchen. What if this was the way it would always be now? What if every time she came home, everything was exactly as she had left it? Never finding the shiny granite counter awash in sandwich makings, her husband out by the pool with his lunch and the paper. The home always as clean and sterile and untouched as a magazine photo?”      

While cooking dinner for her husband, Adele ponders her friend Sylvia’s bad news.

It was interesting, Adele mused, blowing her nose and wiping away onion tears, how adamant Sylvia had been about trusting Carl, even as he betrayed her, she actually snapped at Maggie to stop talking about how she should protect herself, said she wasn’t going to ‘go there,’ that she was going to support Carl’s decision. First the grief, then the rage, Adele thought. How we all scamper into predictable human behavior when the ground collapses under us. And then, like a person hearing about someone else’s cancer diagnosis, Adele watched her own thoughts leap onto the hamster’s wheel: ‘Could it happen to me?’         

Although Adele is the character we spend the most time with, it’s sometimes hard to think of her as the protagonist as the book’s viewpoint swings from one character to the next, from one chapter to the next. We spend most of our time with the three women, and the men don’t fare as well, being constricted by concerns with sex, money and ambition: familiar characteristics we recognize, but are all men really from Mars? 

Carl is the most rudely drawn, and scenes between Carl and his mistress, and Carl and his daughter, are hilarious but not because Carl is humorous. It’s because he is cleverly skewered by the women.

Denting the Bosch could be construed to be a women’s book, and it is a book women will want to spend time with. Author Link builds a scene so well – an argument between Adele and Drew builds moment by moment, as a misplaced word, a thoughtless remark, bring them closer to the realization that they may not want to continue their life-partnership post parenthood.

Anyone who has had an argument with a loved one that teeters on the brink of breakup is bound to relive it. 

There are many such moving and insightful scenes between characters as the book pushes its characters to new awareness, finally reaching its conclusion in the wilds of the Pacific Northwest.

Link uses a children’s rhyme to divide the book into three parts: Straw, Sticks and Bricks – by the end of the book, Link’s characters are made of stronger stuff.       

If I had any bones to pick, it would have to be the number of supporting characters. And I was a bit put off by the wild engagement party where a marriage finally falls apart as two sons announce theirs. Just a personal preference, I hate wild parties. But perhaps because Link has been a producer of movies and TV dramas, she knew to create visual scenes like this in case the book has legs in that direction. It wouldn’t be a surprise if it did. Denting the Bosch holds together as a book and the writing is clever and up-to-date, except no one is texting.

Denting the Bosch is Teresa Link’s debut book. She has a Masters in Theatre from Illinois State University, has worked as an actress, writer and producer throughout the US and UK. Like her main character, Adele, she has lived on both coasts and currently lives in Bergen County. On the advice of her editor at St. Martin’s, Link had to add a subtitle to the book: A Novel of Marriage, Friendship and Expensive Household Appliances; this in case the reading public (like myself) didn’t know that a Bosch was a high-end dishwasher.

Pat Johnson is the Arts Editor for The SandPaper and is newly addicted to fiction writing workshops.   

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