Their love was “forever,” but watch it fall apart in this first novel

When you’re over 50, finding love can re-invigorate your existence and give it that deeper meaning that comes with having a sharing and caring life partner.

If it falls apart, the uncoupling process can be venomous and mutually destructive.

Reading David Sherman’s often compelling debut novel, The Alcoholic’s Daughter (Guernica Editions, 245 pages, $20), I was struck by the yearning for love that animates two adults and brings them together as they enter the home stretches of successful media careers.

When they first met, Evan and Annie seemed to be made for each other. Despite appearances of professional success and recognized achievement, she, francophone, and he anglophone, are lacking that basic building block that makes a fully realized life possible – a solid, mutually enriching relationship with a loving and beloved soul-mate.

Sherman opens the book with a gorgeous description that defines the quality of the writing in this, probably his finest work in a lifetime of writing in a variety of media: Annie, who by this point is deeply in love, asks that Evan – a journalist, editor, and playwright, who is also a budding singer/songwriter – write her a song using the keyword ‘darling.’

And Sherman writes: “No one has ever called me ‘darling’,” she said. So he did. He called it “Forever.”

“After so many trials and so many errors – serial monogamists, and serial screw-ups, they were the real deal. So much to talk about, so many people in common. It was the love of a lifetime, they told each other, curled in bed, waltzing around the kitchen to music only they heard, driving down the highway to wherever. They were forever.”

They meet in a screenwriting class for adults he is giving at a local library, Evan the turned-on instructor, Annie the eager student. The seduction takes shape as he charms the students with his quips and metaphoric winks.

The scene is set. Evan is ending his relationship, selling the house and moving in with Annie, the convenient and obvious next step.

If it all seems too neat and perfect, well it is, and that is the arc of this tale, which the writer insists, is a work of fiction, and any similarity with persons living or dead is purely coincidental.

When Evan enters Annie’s domain conflicts begin. First they appear incidental but as many of us know, the small irritants can build and end up corroding even the most perfect relationship.

The house in the hip Plateau Mont Royal area is her pride and joy, but it’s not that big. So Evan’s arrival opens the door to conflict. Annie is highly focused, hard working,

obsessive and compulsive in the way she follows politics as an observer and commentator. She needs her silence. And as Evan discovers, she is as obsessive and compulsive about every aspect of their lives.

Evan is an energized singer/songwriter, busy freelance journalist, and he needs space for his stuff, and to explore and develop his music. The seeds are there for the inevitable conflict.

Slowly but consistently, the theme of spousal abuse emerges, but not in the usual direction: In their disputes, he is the victim, she the perpetrator.

To Evan, her nightly “two glasses of wine” affects her behaviour – and jacks up the cost when they go out for dinner.

Evan sucks it up – he appeared to be in denial, as many women are in an abusive relationship, and he finds solace by escaping. He will take breaks, renting cheap motel rooms, or running to the country, or going by the “cocaine store” for a gram of relief, or salving his wounds with a bottle of whiskey, or even, toward the end, with a one-night stand or two. Therapists enter the picture.

The dialogue that Sherman has crafted is so realistic, so believable, so graphic, that the reader feels like a fly on the wall, unseen, as the stuff of life and strife unfolds. In scenes reminiscent of Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf, the Annie-Evan exchanges leap out from the page and take you into the room. Sherman’s acquired skill as a playwright are here unmistakeable.

Telegraphed from early on are fast-forward scenes where Evan finds himself in jail, stripped of his shoelaces, and without his mobile phone, staring at the bare walls of his cell, wondering how this could happen.

Of course, if Annie’s were the dominant voice in this saga, there might be another reading of their life together. The story is told from Evan’s perspective, and he, and the reader, soon realize that her obsessive – compulsive behaviour is making their life together impossible.

Why does Evan stay the course for ten years? When he seeks consolation from his male friends, and they all say “she’s crazy,” he proclaims his love, desperate for it to succeed. Lurking in the background is the fact he’s invested money in the renovations and mortgage payments.

Most poignant were her continual pleading, at the end of each argument, for “forever.”

They work on joint projects linking their professional skills, and things only get worse. The inevitable explosion comes with a glass of wine, a splash of water, and … here come the cops.

Evan is not averse to introspection as he examines his lifelong search for the love he felt he did not get from a troubled mother, and his predilection for substance abuse, which he traces back to the relief he felt after a first prescription of Valium and codeine for a physical ailment.

As for the title, Evan asks whether Annie’s compulsive nature and need for total control is the by-product of her father’s alcoholism, or simply a result of genetic determination.

All in all, a terrific read, a story that flows seamlessly, with believable characters and familiar scenes of the Plateau neighbourhood. It will have you thinking about your own relationship, and how you deal with the inevitable roadblocks to the harmony we all seek.

David Sherman will be signing copies and performing, with Nancy Lee, at the Guernica Editions book launch April 27, 6 pm, at La P’tite Grenouille Bar, 3435 St. Laurent Blvd, just above Sherbrooke.

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