Listen to the Marriage: A Novel

Listen to the Marriage: A Novel

by John Jay Osborn


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A riveting drama of marital therapy

Gretchen and Steve have been married for a long time. Living in San Francisco, recently separated, with two children and demanding jobs, they’ve started going to a marriage counselor. Unfolding over the course of ten months and taking place entirely in the marriage counselor’s office, John Jay Osborn’s Listen to the Marriage is the story of a fractured couple in a moment of crisis, and of the person who tries to get them to see each other again. A searing look at the obstacles we put in our own way, as well as the forces that drive us apart (and those that bring us together), Listen to the Marriage is a poignant exploration of marriage—heartbreaking and tender.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781250234766
Publisher: Picador
Publication date: 10/08/2019
Edition description: Reprint
Pages: 256
Sales rank: 226,916
Product dimensions: 4.50(w) x 7.10(h) x 0.70(d)

About the Author

John Jay Osborn graduated from Harvard Law School in 1970. He wrote The Paper Chase while he was a full-time law student. Osborn has clerked for the United States Court of Appeals, practiced law in New York City, taught at the University of Miami School of Law, and practiced in the estate-planning field, as well as giving advice and representation to artists and writers. He is the author of several novels and has written episodes for a variety of television shows. Since 1991 he has been a professor at the law school of the University of San Francisco.

Reading Group Guide

1. What are the problems in Steve and Gretchen’s marriage that bring them into therapy? What has been going on in their lives—work, family, and so forth—that caused them to separate? Do they agree on what their problems are? Who is more at fault? Who is more upset? What are their goals at the beginning of therapy?

2. The narrative shifts between what Sandy, the marriage therapist, is thinking about Gretchen and Steve and what she actually says to them. What do her thoughts reveal about her opinion of the couple and their marriage? About how she approaches therapy? Which thoughts does she share, and which does she hold back?

3. Gretchen’s interactions with Sandy are often confrontational. She challenges Sandy’s counseling methods and accuses her of siding with Steve. Why does Gretchen behave like this? How does Sandy respond? At the end of the book, Sandy “realized what Gretchen wanted. A burst of love swept through her. What marriage counselor can remain impartial?” What has happened? Is Sandy’s “burst of love” for Gretchen or the marriage?

4. As Steve and Gretchen are negotiating childcare so Gretchen can travel to New York with Bill, Sandy’s thoughts drift to how little she cares about her clients’ outside lives. “The important story was what happened inside her office. It was what she had to focus on, it was the story, it was what was really happening.” What is Steve and Gretchen’s story outside the office, and how do they each tell it differently in therapy? What is the story unfolding inside the office that Sandy wants them to focus on?

5. When Steve tells Gretchen he is thinking of taking the kids to visit the Snyders on their farm in Mendocino, Gretchen responds with anger. She says Tina Snyder is “an airhead trust-fund baby,” and that their organic farm is “chaotic.” But how does she really feel and why? Are there other instances when Gretchen says the opposite of what she means?

6. How do their extramarital relationships help Gretchen and Steve better understand each other and what they want from their marriage? What does Gretchen initially see in Bill that reminds her of what attracted her to Steve? What does Gretchen learn from being with Bill that helps her understand what she needs from Steve?

7. The story is set almost entirely in Sandy’s office, with each chapter comprising a therapy session. In which sessions do Steve and Gretchen have breakthroughs? In which do they seem to be stuck or moving backward? For example, does the session that happens right after Gretchen’s trip to New York seem like progress?

8. What kind of person is Gretchen, according to Steve? According to Sandy? How does Gretchen see herself? What are the rules she has made for herself?

9. What happens in the sessions that Sandy has alone with Steve and with Gretchen? What do they learn? How does Sandy use these sessions to inform her work with them when they meet together?

10. What do we know of Sandy’s personal life? Is she married? Does her relationship with Heidi, her mother, influence her approach to Steve and Gretchen’s therapy? Why are we given so much detail about what has happened between Sandy and Heidi?

11. Chapter 15 begins: “The next session, they were all over each other, as if they hadn’t made any progress the session before. Sandy wasn’t surprised.” What progress did Gretchen and Steve make in the previous session? Why isn’t Sandy surprised that the next session is both especially difficult and especially critical? What has happened by the end of the chapter?

12. Whom are you rooting for as the book progresses—Gretchen, Steve, or the marriage? Do Gretchen and Steve change or grow in ways that cause your sympathies to shift? Are Gretchen and Steve likable as individuals? As a couple? Do you think they belong together? Are they people you would like to know?

13. After Valentine’s Day, Gretchen meets with Sandy alone. What has happened in the meantime to alter her feelings about both Bill and Steve? What is she beginning to understand about the differences between the two men as well as the differences between romantic love and marriage?

14. In the last chapter the couple is reunited. Why does Gretchen allow Steve to move in with her? What has changed about each of them that will give them a chance to have a better marriage? What do they commit to going forward?

15. It could be said that the book has four main characters: Sandy, Gretchen, Steve, and the marriage, represented by Sandy’s green chair. Steve and Gretchen’s task is to learn to listen to their marriage. When they are finally able to do that, they are able to reconcile. What is it that the marriage has to say to them?

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Listen to the Marriage 4.5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 2 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Entertaining and insightful story of a broken marriage and working through it with a marriage counselor
PattySmith87 More than 1 year ago
Many thanks to Netgalley, Farrar, Straus and Giroux, and John Jay Osborn for an ARC in exchange for an honest review. My opinions are 100& my own and independent of receiving an advanced copy. How much power, emotion, honesty, and truth can be packed into 256 pages? Quite a bit, if you are talking about “Listen To The Marriage”. What an incredible experience it was to be a fly on the wall, while Gretchen and Steve pore their hearts out to Sandy, their marriage councillor. I was completely caught up in their struggle, reading it all in one afternoon. I had been having a hard time, of late, trying to find a book to latch onto. Flitting from horror to magic to mystery, but nope, it was this little tiny gem about betrayal, growth and change that grabbed me. Once I started, I couldn’t put it down. Gretchen and Steve are broken. So much so, that they are afraid they are headed for divorce. They find themselves in the office of Sandy, an unconventional marriage therapist. Can they pick up the pieces and put themselves together again? When they do, who will they be? Will they stay together or forge life ahead, apart? Told mostly through the therapist’s voice, we get a rare glimpse into what a marriage looks like, how what starts with love and hopes and dreams can get derailed into something so unrecognizable that you are driving straight into an abyss. Sandy is wise, patient and surprisingly non-judgemental for someone who can clearly see into these people’s motives. Both Gretchen and Steve have to do the work of breaking down walls and opening up about their feelings, in order to see what, if anything, is left between them. If you have ever sat in a therapist’s office, a lot of this will ring true. For example, Sandy always remains impartial, but damned if Gretchen doesn’t accuse her of secretly being on Steve’s side. Very typical, especially if your therapist is not always agreeing with you and maybe challenging you to grow. If you are married, or have been married for a while, you will find something to relate to in Gretchen and Steve’s marriage. It takes you through all the mess that marriage can be. How you start out on a team and after some time goes by, without quite knowing how, you end up pitted against each other, just trying to keep your head above water and stop from losing yourself altogether. If you are lucky, you have healthy ways to communicate and respect each other’s boundaries. Sometimes, there is betrayal. Steve has an affair and Gretchen has to find a way to forgive him, regardless if they get back together. Once children are part of the picture, you are forever tied to one another. I am still married. I related so much to this novel, it was a bit of a sob-fest for me. I completely understood Gretchen’s rage at how unfair it was that now that Steve had changed and became this self-aware, great father, someone else was going to get the benefit of all her hard work. I also recognized the pattern of speak that a couple can sometimes get into. You have the same conversation, over and over again, it almost writes itself. It is hard to break out of that without the help of someone from the outside. I thought the choice Osborn made to have the voice of the therapist narrate the novel brilliant, because how else can the reader stay impartial. It was a bit unrealistic how omnipotent she was with her clients. I doubt therapists are so in tune with their patients. If they were, no one would divorce. I recognized the desire to b