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A Separation
     

A Separation

1.0 1
by Katie Kitamura
 

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“Kitamura’s prose gallops, combining Elena Ferrante-style intricacies with the tensions of a top-notch whodunit.” —Elle

“Kitamura is a writer with a visionary, visual imagination." —The New Yorker


This is her story. About the end of her marriage. About what happened when

Overview

“Kitamura’s prose gallops, combining Elena Ferrante-style intricacies with the tensions of a top-notch whodunit.” —Elle

“Kitamura is a writer with a visionary, visual imagination." —The New Yorker


This is her story. About the end of her marriage. About what happened when Christopher went missing and she went to find him. These are her secrets, this is what happened...
 
A young woman has agreed with her faithless husband: it's time for them to separate. For the moment it's a private matter, a secret between the two of them. As she begins her new life, she gets word that Christopher has gone missing in a remote region in the rugged south of Greece; she reluctantly agrees to go look for him, still keeping their split to herself. In her heart, she's not even sure if she wants to find him. As her search comes to a shocking breaking point, she discovers she understands less than she thought she did about her relationship and the man she used to love. 

A searing, suspenseful story of intimacy and infidelity, A Separation lays bare what divides us from the inner lives of others. With exquisitely cool precision, Katie Kitamura propels us into the experience of a woman on edge, with a fiercely mesmerizing story to tell.

Editorial Reviews

The Barnes & Noble Review

She hatched from an egg. A swan had dazzled the young queen of Sparta, so the myth tells us, seducing her with his glossy feathers and robust wingspan, the muscled arch of his neck, thunder-lord of Olympus in animal guise. Later that night, presumably in a blush of guilt, Leda offered herself to her husband, eventually laying two eggs from which four siblings emerged: two mortal, two sired by Zeus. The mortal daughter, Clytemnestra, lacked the transcendent beauty of Helen, her god-spawned sister; and one can imagine the resentment that built up over the years, like layers of sludge and grit, a soul's moraine. But from this potent brew of marital betrayal and familial discord Aeschylus spun his masterful trilogy, the Oresteia, with Clytemnestra as the fierce, treacherous wife who spurs the drama into motion, so unsparing in her rage toward her husband that she murdered him as soon as he sailed home across the wine-dark sea from the Trojan War, a ten-year absence in which she had ruled their city of Argos, on the Peloponnesian coast, reveling in her power, flaunting a lover before her outraged daughter and son.

Missing husband, vengeful wife. The figure of Clytemnestra haunts A Separation, Katie Kitamura's exquisitely wrought if occasionally static novel, which recounts a translator's search for her estranged husband in a resort village on the same Peloponnesian peninsula. The novel opens as Rachel receives a phone call in her London flat from Isabella, her mother-in-law, inquiring about Christopher, a writer, who has gone off to Greece to research a book. Christopher had insisted that Rachel not tell anyone about their separation, even though she's already kindled a romance with an acquaintance and intends to ask Christopher for a divorce. Isabella can't reach her son, has no idea of his whereabouts: would Rachel track him down?

In Kitamura's telling Christopher is an attractive, insouciant playboy with a wandering eye, the cause of the split. Against her better judgment Rachel flies to Greece, settling into the same plush hotel where Christopher had been staying until just before her arrival, when he mysteriously vanished without checking out, lost among the craggy beaches, fields charred from recent wildfires. She finds sanctuary here, striking up odd friendships with the hotel staff — Kitamura skillfully draws the cast and setting, creating a Hitchcockian mood among the bright colors and bleached sunlight of the Mediterranean — as Rachel muses on her failed relationship, on why men feel entitled to stray, even if they remain at home under their wives' steely stare: "Now, they no longer went away — there was not, at least for most of them, a sea to roam or a desert to cross, there was nothing but the floors of an office tower, the morning commute, a familiar and monotonous landscape . . . it was only on the shores of infidelity that they achieved a little privacy, a little inner life."

This may sound like forgiveness, or at least a stab at understanding, but Kitamura's too shrewd for a pat resolution, probing further as Rachel's investigation yields a cold trail. Most of A Separation consists of her furious debates with herself. A couple of vivid set pieces — a trip to a dilapidated Byzantine church; an interview with an elderly woman who's a professional mourner, paid by a bereaved family to wail publicly — are offset by endless ruminations on marriage: what it means to wives, what it cannot mean to husbands. Beneath Rachel's attempts to pin down Christopher boils anger at herself.

In this Kitamura is not alone but takes her place among a set of women authors who explore ambivalence about marriage through their female characters. There's a classical feel to these explorations, a need to revisit — to reinvent — the old stories. Lauren Groff's much-acclaimed 2015 novel, Fates and Furies, portrays a lengthy marriage from two opposed perspectives: the husband believes it to be strong and true while the wife keeps her awful secrets tucked away. (Groff's title evokes the Erinyes, the Furies who torment Orestes after he slays Clytemnestra to avenge his father's murder.) The British novelist Rachel Cusk has dramatized similar themes, first in Outline and then in Transit, her surfaces cool and elegant and deliberate, differing from Kitamura's quicksilver sentences. In her nonfiction book Aftermath: On Marriage and Separation, Cusk details a visit to the Peloponnese and the graves of Clytemnestra and Agamemnon, the queen's struggles with a patriarchal system that considers her lesser: "In Agamemnon's absence Clytemnestra has had to play his role: she has learned she is capable of governing his palace, of ruling Argos, of commanding his underlings . . . She is seeking a new form, a new configuration of male and female. She is seeking equality. Children will not be born from equality, nor will empires be built or frontiers expanded . . . Clytemnestra wants no more begetting. She wants the peace of equality but to get it she will have to use violence."

Ultimately, the violence Rachel wreaks on Christopher is internal, through the act of remembering the emotional harm they inflicted on each other. After the mystery of her husband's disappearance is untangled, one of the most poignant moments of the story comes in Rachel's final encounter with her in-laws. Kitamura depicts Christopher's parents beautifully — they add a dash of color, a kinetic energy, at the precise moment the narrative begins to sag from the weight of its brooding. Burned-out in a burned-out landscape, Rachel manages to see something that has up to this point eluded her, leaving the reader with a grace note: "It was not surprising that I would now look at Christopher's parents and see their marriage anew . . . One of the problems with happiness — and I'd been very happy, when Christopher and I were first engaged — is that it makes you both smug and unimaginative. I now looked at Isabella and Mark's marriage and saw that I understood nothing, about it or about marriage in general, they knew things that Christopher and I had not had, or had not taken, the time to find out." She comes away renewed, ready to forge a life with her new partner in London. Christopher, meanwhile, leaves the story without having spoken for himself: we only see him in unflattering flashbacks. Kitamura spares Rachel the fate that awaited Clytemnestra; but in this way she has her revenge, just as did that legendary queen of Argos, whose quest to create an authentic self led her to commit the most heinous act of all, a story as old as the Greeks.

Hamilton Cain is the author of a memoir, This Boy's Faith, and a former finalist for a National Magazine Award. He lives in Brooklyn, New York.

Reviewer: Hamilton Cain

The New York Times Book Review - Fernanda Eberstadt
…a kind of postmodern mystery in which we end up with a dead body, evidence of a violent crime, an abundant trail of clues and even angry mourners, yet nobody feels compelled to pursue the investigation. There is something unknowable in human nature, the novel seems to assume, something better left unexamined…In the hierarchical world of Kitamura's novel, there is little love or friendship between equals, only manipulation and control, guilt and obedience, humiliation and submission. And behind these power games, one detects an overriding fatalism about the possibility of human connection, a sense that "wife and husband and marriage are only words that conceal much more unstable realities, more turbulent than perhaps can be contained in a handful of syllables, or any amount of writing." It is this radical disbelief—a disbelief, it appears, even in the power of art—that makes Kitamura's accomplished novel such a coolly unsettling work.
Publishers Weekly
11/14/2016
The unnamed narrator of Kitamura’s third novel has been separated from her husband, Christopher, for six months when she travels from London to southern Greece to find him, prompted into action by Christopher’s mother, who is unaware of the separation and worried because her son isn’t returning phone calls. The narrator describes Athens traffic and the Peloponnesian coast, but it is her internal landscape—her imaginings, suspicions, speculations, thoughts, and feelings—that dominates the narrative. Habitually unfaithful Christopher has left his wife in the dark regarding much of his private life. She means to ask for a divorce, and then wavers. When she arrives at the hotel where he is registered, she delays calling his room. When Christopher fails to appear by checkout time, she takes no part in clearing out his things. When a pretty hotel receptionist turns out to be one of Christopher’s lovers, the narrator buys her dinner. The narrator’s deepest feeling comes not from learning the reason for Christopher’s disappearance but from listening to a professional mourner’s lament. Research into this mourning ritual had been Christopher’s excuse for visiting Greece, although even his mother understood he also anticipated extra-marital indulgences. Kitamura suggests but never specifies the extent of these indulgences; likewise she leaves plot issues unresolved. Instead, she focuses on capturing a disarray of contradictory emotions, delineating the line between white lies and betrayal, legal and personal relationships, the impulse to hold on and the need to let go. Despite the mysterious premise, readers may find that the narrator’s frequent contemplation frustratingly stalls the novel. (Feb.)
From the Publisher
Named one of the most anticipated books of 2017 by the New York Times, Entertainment Weekly, Vulture, Huffington Post, The Guardian, and The Millions.

“Kitamura is a writer with a visionary, visual imagination… In A Separation, [she] has made consciousness her territory. The book is all mind, and an observant, taut, astringent mind it is.” —The New Yorker

“A slow burn of a novel that gathers its great force and intensity through careful observation and a refusal to accept old, shopworn narratives of love and loss.” —Jenny Offill, author of Dept. of Speculation

"Thrilling." —New York Magazine

“Unsettling… Kitamura traces the narrator’s thoughts in sentences striking for their control and lucidity, their calm surface belied by the instability lurking beneath… The more the narrator tells us, the less we trust her. And the less we trust her, the more this hypnotic novel compels us to confront the limits of what we, too, can know.” —O, the Oprah Magazine

“A novel so seamless, that follows its path with such consequence, that even minor deviations seem loaded with meaning. Wonderful.” —Karl Ove Knausgaard, author of My Struggle

“Accomplished… a coolly unsettling work.” —New York Times Book Review

“Kitamura’s prose gallops, combining Elena Ferrante-style intricacies with the tensions of a top-notch whodunit.” —Elle

“Kitamura weaves a novel of quiet power, mostly due to a narrative voice that is so subtly commanding—so effortlessly self-aware and perceptive, teeming with dry yet empathetic humor—that it’s a challenge not to follow her journey in a single sitting.” —Harper's Bazaar

“Katie Kitamura breathes new life into the theme of marital breakdown.” —The New Republic

“[A]n atmospheric and emotionally sophisticated novel that reads like a taut Patricia Highsmith thriller.” —BBC

“The burnt landscape, the disappearance of a man, the brilliantly cold, precise, and yet threatening, churning tone of the narrator—make A Separation an absolutely mesmerizing work of art.” —Rachel Kushner, author of The Flamethrowers

"Katie Kitamura is a visionary.... A Separation is a poised literary thriller on the outside and an investigation of interiority and the faulty narratives we assign to the world on the inside." —LitHub

"A Separation looks poised to be the literary Gone Girl of 2017." —The Millions 

"A Separation displays Kitamura’s stylistic control once again.... Violence of all kinds, not just against other bodies but against other minds, remains Kitamura’s quarry. ‘A Separation’ proves that few stalk such game more patiently or more powerfully.” —San Francisco Chronicle

“Unnerving... taut with quiet suspense.... It is wonderful to read a book that respects its readers in this way; Kitamura allows our imaginations to do much of the work.” —NPR

“[A] slow-burn psychological novel, which rakes the embers of betrayal to find grief smoldering underneath… An absorbing tale.” —Boston Globe

“This novel has everything I love in a book: love, loss, a journey, and stunning writing.” —Martha Stewart

"Spell-binding" —Real Simple

“Prepare to feel, well, everything – this is a raw look at an emotionally charged life event.” —Marie Claire

"Stylistically ambitious and psychologically rich… A Separation is a work of great intensity and originality… There are deft meditations on the art of translation and the ritual of mourning, and sharp insight into what binds and divides lovers.... This is the book that elevates Kitamura to a different league.” —Minneapolis Star-Tribune

“Profound and gripping. I had that rare sense of feeling like I was in a creation specifically made out of words, that couldn't have been made out of any other substance. Kitamura combines the calm complexity of Joseph Conrad with the pacing and reveal of Patricia Highsmith. This novel is a wonder and a pleasure.” —Rivka Galchen, author of Atmospheric Disturbances and Little Labors

“Told through a chilling first-person narration, A Separation explores the distance and intimacy that comes with searching for someone you are separated from and the grief that such a hunt can carry.”  —Mashable

"A Separation opens up fissures of ambiguity in emotional experiences too often misunderstood as monolithic—grief, desire, estrangement—and plumbs these crevices for all their complexities. It has both urgency and afterglow: I read it quickly, but didn’t stop thinking about it for a long time once I was done." —Leslie Jamison, author of The Empathy Exams

“Secrets make up the plot and theme of [A Separation].... There is a crime and certainly a twist, but the discoveries and resolutions are internal, existential.” —Vulture

“[T]hrilling domestic noir…smart, spare…Kitamura gives us a book that’s worth reading for its inventive cadences alone. And there’s more to it than that: surprising turns and honest thoughts on the complexity of loss.” —Huffington Post

“[An] intimate, psychological mystery.” —Boston Globe

"[M]ark your calendar for sleeplessness, because if you’re anything like me, you’ll read it straight through without stopping…Kitamura’s spare language somehow seems barely able to control the emotion it signifies.” —LitHub

“Tautly austere, lyrical and jarring...For readers seeking profound examinations of challenging relationships . . . Kitamura’s oeuvre will be a compelling discovery.” —Library Journal [STARRED REVIEW]

"A spare and stunning portrait of a marital estrangement... [B]uilds into a hypnotic meditation on infidelity and the unknowability of one's spouse. In precise and muted prose, the entire story unspools in the coolly observant mind of a young woman... A minutely observed novel of infidelity unsettles its characters and readers." —Kirkus [STARRED REVIEW] 

“Brilliantly written and reminiscent of Gone Girl.” —InStyle

“Unlike every other half-baked thriller with a female protagonist making the same claim, this one might actually deliver. Elegant prose makes all the difference.” —Refinery29

“At once cool and burning, Kitamura’s immersive, probing psychological tale benefits from its narrator’s precise observations and nimble use of language.” —Booklist

"Kitamura is a major talent." —The Boston Globe
 
"Hemingway's returned to life—and this time, he's a woman." —Tom McCarthy

"A mesmerizing novel, one whose force builds inexorably as its story unfolds in daring, unexpected strokes... Be warned: you'll find yourself reading long past midnight, out of breath and wide awake. This is a bold and powerful book." —Julie Orringer

"A watchful and magnificent work. From the first page, Kitamura is in complete control, both of the prose and the story it carries. She is a skilled hunter and we are her helpless prey." —Teju Cole

Library Journal
★ 12/01/2016
Although separated from philandering husband Christopher for six months, a London woman agrees to continue to postpone "the process…of telling people." Almost a month has passed since she last talked to Christopher, rendering her unable to answer his mother Isabella's unexpected request for his whereabouts. She travels to Greece at Isabella's insistence, arriving at the hotel where her errant spouse has a room, only to learn he's traveling. Her wait for his return amid strangers who have known him more recently, more intimately, has shocking results. Between an anniversary-celebrating couple flaunting their passion to an elderly woman who is a rare professional funereal "weeper," the woman confronts the disintegration of love: "perhaps wife and husband and marriage itself are only words that conceal much more unstable realities, more turbulent than can be contained in a handful of syllables, or any amount of writing." VERDICT Like her two previous novels (The Longshot, Gone to the Forest), Kitamura's latest is another tautly austere, intensely internal narrative, both adroitly lyrical and jarring. For readers seeking profound examinations of challenging relationships—think Pamela Erens's Eleven Hours, Jung Yun's Shelter, Ha Jin's Waiting —Kitamura's oeuvre will be a compelling discovery. [See Prepub Alert, 8/8/16.]—Terry Hong, Smithsonian BookDragon, Washington, DC
Kirkus Reviews
★ 2016-11-23
Dread and lassitude twist into a spare and stunning portrait of a marital estrangement.At the end of this unsettling psychological novel, the narrator suggests that "perhaps wife and husband and marriage itself are only words that conceal much more unstable realities, more turbulent than can be contained in a handful of syllables, or any amount of writing." Kitamura's third work of fiction builds into a hypnotic meditation on infidelity and the unknowability of one's spouse. In precise and muted prose, the entire story unspools in the coolly observant mind of a young woman, a translator. She is estranged from Christopher Wallace, her "handsome and wealthy" husband of five years. He is a relentless adulterer; the narrator herself is now living with another man. The novel begins with a phone call from Isabella, a hostile and unpleasant mother-in-law, petulant that she can't reach her only son and ignorant of the separation. Christopher has decamped to rural Greece, and Isabella insists her daughter-in-law leave England to go after him. Thinking it time to ask for a divorce, she agrees. In the remote fishing village of Gerolimenas, there are grim portents: stray dogs, high unemployment, a landscape charred from a season of wildfires, and the hostility of a hotel receptionist who appears to have slept with Christopher. Each of 13 taut chapters turns the screw; at the beginning of the seventh there is a murder. Kitamura leaves it unsolved. Instead of delivering a whodunit, the author plucks a bouquet of unforeseen but psychologically piercing consequences. The narrator thinks, "One of the problems of happiness—and I'd been very happy, when Christopher and I were first engaged—is that it makes you both smug and unimaginative." As this harrowing story ends, her life is diminished and her imagination is cruelly awake. A minutely observed novel of infidelity unsettles its characters and readers.

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780399576102
Publisher:
Penguin Publishing Group
Publication date:
02/07/2017
Pages:
240
Sales rank:
25,076
Product dimensions:
5.80(w) x 8.40(h) x 1.10(d)

Read an Excerpt

1.

It began with a telephone call from Isabella. She wanted to know where Christopher was, and I was put in the awkward position of having to tell her that I didn’t know. To her this must have sounded incredible. I didn’t tell her that Christopher and I had separated six months earlier, and that I hadn’t spoken to her son in nearly a month.

She found my inability to inform her of    -Christopher’s whereabouts incomprehensible, and her response was withering but not entirely surprised, which somehow made matters worse. I felt both humiliated and uncomfortable, two sensations that have always characterized my relationship with Isabella and Mark. This despite Christopher often telling me I had precisely the same effect on them, that I should try not to be so reserved, it was too easily interpreted as a form of arrogance.

Didn’t I know, he asked, that some people found me a snob? I didn’t. Our marriage was formed by the things Christopher knew and the things I did not. This was not simply a question of intellect, although in that respect Christopher again had the advantage, he was without doubt a clever man. It was a question of things withheld, information that he had, and that I did not. In short, it was a question of infidelities—betrayal always puts one partner in the position of knowing, and leaves the other in the dark.

Although betrayal was not even, not necessarily, the primary reason for the failure of our marriage. It happened slowly, even once we had agreed to separate, there were practicalities, it was no small thing, dismantling the edifice of a marriage. The prospect was so daunting that I began wondering whether one or the other of us was having second thoughts, if there was hesitation buried deep within the bureaucracy, secreted in the piles of paper and online forms which we were so keen to avoid.

And so it was entirely reasonable of Isabella to call me and ask what had become of Christopher. I’ve left three messages, she said, his mobile goes directly to voice mail, and the last time I rang it was a foreign ringtone—

She pronounced the word foreign with a familiar blend of suspicion, mystification (she could not imagine any reason why her only son would wish to remove himself from her vicinity) and pique. The words returned to me then, phrases spoken over the course of the marriage: you’re foreign, you’ve always been a little foreign, she’s very nice but different to us, we don’t feel as if we know you (and then, finally, what she would surely say if Christopher told her that it was over between us), it’s for the best, darling, in the end she was never really one of us.

—therefore, I would like to know, where exactly is my son?

Immediately, my head began to throb. It had been a month since I had spoken to Christopher. Our last conversation had been on the telephone. Christopher had said that although we were clearly not going to be reconciled, he did not want to begin the process—he used that word, indicative of some continuous and ongoing thing, rather than a decisive and -singular act and of course he was right, divorce was more  organic, somehow more contingent than it initially appeared—of telling people.

Could we keep it between us? I had hesitated, it wasn’t that I disagreed with the sentiment—the decision was still new at that point, and I imagined Christopher felt much as I did, that we had not yet figured out how to tell the story of our separation. But I disliked the air of complicity, which felt incongruous and without purpose. Regardless, I said yes. Christopher, hearing the hesitation in my voice, asked me to promise. Promise that you won’t tell anyone, at least for the time being, not until we speak again. Irritated, I agreed, and then hung up.

That was the last time we spoke. Now, when I insisted that I did not know where Christopher was, Isabella gave a short laugh before saying, Don’t be ridiculous. I spoke to Christopher three weeks ago and he told me the two of you were going to Greece. I’ve had such difficulty getting hold of him, and given that you are clearly here in England, I can only assume that he has gone to Greece without you.

I was too confused to respond. I could not understand why Christopher would have told her that we were going to Greece together, I had not even known that he was leaving the country. She continued, He’s been working very hard, I know he’s there on research, and—

She lowered her voice in a way that I found difficult to decipher, it might have been genuine hesitation or its mere facsimile, she was not above such manipulations.

—I’m worried about him.

This declaration was not immediately persuasive to me, and I did not take her concern with much seriousness. Isabella believed her relationship with Christopher to be better than it was, a natural mistake for a mother to make, but one that on occasion led to outlandish behavior on her part. Once, this situation might have elicited in me a feeling of triumph—that this woman should turn to me for help in a matter concerning her son might have meant something as little as a year ago, as little as six months ago.

Now, I listened mostly with trepidation as she continued. He hasn’t been himself, I called to ask if the two of you—the two of you again, it was clear she knew nothing, that Christopher had not confided in her—might like to come and stay in the country, get some fresh air. That’s when Christopher told me that you were going to Greece, that you had a translation to finish and that he was going to do research. But now—and she gave a brief sigh of exasperation—I find that you are in London and he is not answering his phone.

I don’t know where Christopher is.

There was a slight pause before she continued.

In any case you must go and join him at once. You know how powerful my intuition is, I know something is wrong, it’s not like him not to return my calls.

There were outcomes to Isabella’s telephone call that are extraordinary to me, even now. One is that I obeyed this woman and went to Greece, a place I had no desire to visit, for a purpose that was not in the least bit evident to me. True, Christopher had lied to Isabella when he said that we were going to Greece together. If he did not want to tell his mother about the separation, it would have been easy enough to come up with some excuse to explain why he was traveling alone—that I had to go to a conference, that I was spending time with a girlfriend who had three children and was therefore always in need of both help and company.

Or he could have told her half the truth, the start of it at least, that we were taking time off—from what, or where, she might have asked. But he had not done any of this, perhaps because it was easier to lie or maybe because it was easier to let his mother make whatever assumptions she wished to make—although misapprehensions, after the fact, were especially difficult for Isabella. I realized then that we needed to formalize the state of affairs between us. I had already decided to ask Christopher for a divorce, I would simply go to Greece and do the deed in person.

I supposed it would be my last dutiful act as her daughter-in-law. An hour later, Isabella called to tell me which hotel Christopher was staying at—I wondered how she had obtained this information—and the record locator for a ticket she had booked in my name, departing the next day. Beneath the unnecessary flourishes of character and the sheen of idle elegance, she was a supremely capable woman, one reason why she had been a formidable adversary, someone I had reason to fear. But that was all over, and soon there would be no battleground between us.

Still, I noted that she evidently didn’t trust me—I was not the kind of wife who could be relied upon to locate her husband, not without a ticket in hand and a hotel address. Perhaps it was in response to this patent distrust that I kept my promise to Christopher, the second surprising outcome of Isabella’s call. I did not tell his mother that we were -separated, and had been for some time, the one piece of information that would have excused me from going to Greece altogether.

No mother would ask her daughter-in-law to go to Greece in order to ask her son for a divorce. I could have stayed in London and gone about my business. But I did not tell her, and I did not stay in London. If Isabella knew that she had purchased a plane ticket in order for me to ask her son for a divorce, I suppose she would have killed me, actually slain me then and there. Such a thing was not impossible. She was, as I have said, a supremely capable woman. Or perhaps she would have said had she known it was so easy to separate us, to dissolve the terms of our marriage, she would have bought me the ticket long ago. Before she hung up, she advised me to pack a bathing suit. She had been told the hotel had a very nice pool.

In Athens, the city was heavy with traffic and there was some kind of transportation strike. The village where Christopher was staying was a five-hour drive from the capital, at the southernmost tip of the country’s mainland. A car was waiting at the airport: Isabella had thought of everything. I fell asleep during the journey, which began with the traffic, then segued into a series of bleak and anonymous motorways. I was tired. I looked out the window but could not read any of the signs.

I awoke to a hard and repetitive noise. It was black outside, night had fallen while I was asleep. The sound vibrated through the vehicle—thwack thwack thwack—then stopped. The car was moving slowly down a narrow single-lane road. I leaned forward and asked the driver if we were stopping, if we had very far to go. We are here, he said. We have already arrived. The thwacking began again.

Strays, the driver added. Outside, dark shapes moved alongside the car, the tails of the dogs striking its shell. The driver beeped his horn in an effort to frighten the animals away—they were so close it seemed as if the car might strike them at any moment, despite our decelerated speed—but they were not deterred, they remained close to the vehicle as we moved down the road toward a large stone villa. The driver continued beeping his horn as he rolled down the window and shouted at the strays.

Up ahead, a porter opened the gates to the property. As the car moved forward through the gates, the dogs fell behind. When I turned to look through the rear window, they stood in a ring before the gates, their eyes as yellow as the beams from the taillights. The hotel was at the far end of a small bay and I heard the sound of water as soon as I stepped out of the car. I carried my purse and a small overnight bag, the porter asked if I had any luggage and I said I had none, I had packed for a night, at worst for a weekend, although I did not phrase it in that way.

The driver said something about a return journey; I took his card and said I would call him, perhaps tomorrow. He nodded, and I asked if he would now return to Athens, it was already very late. He shrugged and got back into the car.

Inside, the lobby was empty. I checked the time—it was nearly eleven. Isabella had not booked me a room, I was a woman joining her husband, there should have been no need. I asked for a single room for the night. The man behind the desk said there were plenty of rooms available, he announced with surprising candor that the hotel was nearly empty. It was the end of September, the season was over. Unfortunately, the sea was now too cold for swimming, he added, but the hotel swimming pool was heated to a very comfortable temperature.

I waited until he had finished taking my details and handed me the key before I asked about Christopher.

Would you like me to call his room?

His expression was alert but his hands remained still behind the desk, he did not move to pick up the phone, it was after all very late.

No, I shook my head. I’ll try him in the morning.

He nodded sympathetically. His eyes had become more watchful, perhaps he saw many relationships in similar dis-array, or perhaps he thought nothing of it and had a naturally sympathetic face, a trait that was no doubt useful in his occupation. He did not say anything further about the matter. I took the key and he told me about breakfast and insisted on taking my bag as he ushered me to the elevator. Thank you, I said. Did I want a wake-up call? A newspaper in the morning? It can wait, I told him. All of it can wait.

When I woke, sunlight had flooded the room. I reached for my phone, there were no messages and it was -already nine. Breakfast would be ending soon, I would need to hurry if I wanted to eat. Still, I stood in the shower longer than was necessary. Until that moment—standing in the hotel room shower, the water blurring my vision as it streamed into my eyes—I had not stopped to consider or imagine how Christopher would feel, what he would think, when he saw me, or was confronted by me, in the hotel. I imagined his first thought would be simple enough, he would assume that I wanted him back.

Why else would a woman follow her estranged husband to another country, other than to bring an end to their separation? It was an extravagant gesture, and extravagant gestures between a man and a woman are generally understood to be romantic, even in the context of a failed marriage. I would appear before him and he would—would he be filled with apprehension, would his heart sink, would he wonder what it was that I wanted? Would he feel caught, hounded, would he worry that there had been a disaster, that something had happened to his mother, he should have returned her phone calls.

Meet the Author

Katie Kitamura is a critic and novelist living in New York City. She is the author of Gone to the Forest and The Longshot, both of which were finalists for the New York Public Library’s Young Lions Fiction Award. A recipient of a Lannan Residency Fellowship, Kitamura has written for The New York Times, The Guardian, Granta, BOMB, Triple Canopy, and is a regular contributor to Frieze.

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A Separation 1 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 1 reviews.
Anonymous 4 months ago
I couldn't finish it. The main character is *always* inside her own head, and the author's love of commas - once noticed, never not noticed - just killed it for me. I never even got to when the SPOILER happens.