Listen to the Marriage by John Jay Osborn

Thank you to Farrar, Straus and Giroux and NetGalley for an early review copy which will be published Oct. 23, 2018.  All thoughts are my own.

Writing: 3.5 Plot: 3.5 Characters: 3

A surprisingly interesting book — all the “action” takes place in the marriage counselor’s office where Steve and Gretchen meet weekly for the 9 months following their split. I have a somewhat skeptical view of how helpful therapists usually are, but I found this view into the detailed process both plausible and fascinating. The novel enumerates the session conversations, revealing the bad habits and miscommunications that can develop between people without their realizing it.

Sandy (the therapist) makes it clear to her clients that she has never been a “neutral” marriage counselor. “You can ask whatever you want,” she says. “I don’t do the therapist-must-keep-her-distance thing.” She views the “marriage” as an entity in and of itself and allocates an odd-looking chair in the room to be its representative.

I have no insight as to why John Jay Osborn of “Paper Chase” fame is writing a novel about marriage counseling, and with a female therapist to boot. I’m always nervous when a man writes a book from a woman’s perspective (and similarly unhappy when a woman writes a book from a man’s) but in this case, Sandy comes across as a gender neutral being. Her role in the therapy, and her thoughts, actions, and words, could equally well have belonged to a man. Even her name appears to have been chosen to be gender neutral.

The book felt slightly too long — while realistic, the repetition required in good long term counseling can get a bit dull for the reader — and the ending was a bit too sappy for me (though not in the way you’d predict), however I did find it a fast and absorbing read.

Good for fans of Irvin Yalom.

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