An Actual Lifeby Abigail Thomas
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Virginia and Buddy "had to get married." Their daughter, Madeline, was conceived the first time they "did it" in Buddy's room at college. Virginia's college asked her to leave. Her parents put on a wedding. And now? Well, as Virginia puts it, "now that we know each other a little better it turns out we are actually strangers." Set in 1960, AN ACTUAL LIFE, is about the second summer of Buddy and Virginia's marriage. There's no money, no love, no foreseeable future. They both try hard, but Virginia is all of nineteen and Buddy only just past twenty and neither one has a clue how to make this misbegotten marriage work. The way it ends is both a complete surprise and utterly inevitable.
The summer of 1960 is sizzling, but every bit of heat has gone out of this young couple's marriage as they return with their almost year-old daughter, Madeline, to Buddy's hometown, Hadley, New Jersey, to stay with his Aunt Dot. Right away, Virginia finds confirmation of her old suspicion that Buddy is still deeply attached to his old high-school girlfriend, Irene. It doesn't seem to slow the two down that Irene is now married to Buddy's good friend Chick. As the summer progresses, Virginia finds herself more and more estranged from her silent, moody husband. She flees for a while to Massachusetts to stay with her parents, but when it becomes clear that they aren't going to provide her with a way out, Virginia heads back to Buddy to try once more. On the surface, this is disarmingly simple stuffthe perils of young marriage. But Thomas mines deeper and delivers more. Her depiction of Virginia's parents, not quite callous but exquisitely bundled in their own self-absorption, is chilling and wonderful. Irene and Buddy too, to a lesser degree, grow beyond their easy-to-hate adulterous roles into more complex characters. And, finally, there is Virginia herself, who narrates in a voice that's right on pitch for a 19- year-old mother in 1960: self-righteous, slightly priggish, and, at times, heartbreakingly naive. The changes she makes as she goes along are tiny but meaningful, and by the closean ending that both is and isn't a surprisewe see that Virginia, who started out as a bit of a dim bulb, may be a firecracker after all.
The aftermath of a 1950s shotgun marriage may not be a new story, but this one, quietly told, resonates in a powerful way. A heartfelt first novel.
- Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill
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Okay, I loved Abigail Thomas' other book 'Getting Over Tom' it was wonderful, and this book wasn't bad but the ending left me saying, no, screaming 'WHAT?!?!', I have no idea what just happened, none whatsoever, I think my jaw is hanging open, it's probably really simple too. Someone explain it to me please.
I really loved this book. It makes you think about young life. I pictured myself in her shoes...what I would do differently...what I would do the same? And the ending was just perfect!
All I have to say about this book, is that is the best book that I've ever read.