Recently I learned that Mariflo's sister dated David Huddle in high school and this revelation, along with the fact that I loved another book of his, Nothing Can Make Me Do This, moved me to read this one.
Each chapter is in the voice of a different character, or about a different time in the character's life. So we begin with the teenage Marcy who has an affair with the husband of her mother's best friend, a man of about 40. Marcy tells the story from the vantage point of an adult. A number of secrets appear in the book, but this one is truly the story you wouldn't guess in a million years.
The four characters we focus on are Marcy, her husband Allen, her best friend Uta, and Uta's husband Jimmy. The first three grew up together in Cleveland and eventually went to school at UVa in Charlottesville in 1966 where they met Jimmy. (I should note that Marcy and Uta are only able to attend the all-male UVa in the nursing program.) Both couples find work in Northern Virginia and we hear of the secrets they tell and keep from each other over the years.
The story unfolds in beautiful language with remarkable insights into how our connections to others work. From the moment I began reading to the very end, I was enthralled by the story and writing. Though Marcy doesn't remain the center of focus I had assumed she would be, her secret is necessarily an important key to this novel. She is extricated from the teenage affair by her interest in a boy of her own age whom she marries. Though she has a remarkable intellect, she goes to nursing school and even gives up that profession at Allen's request as he becomes successful. She secretly learns to play the piano, first as a child with Uta's help and later when her own children are out of the house. Perhaps Marcy can only find real joy and intense pleasure in secrect activities. How should we think of the affair with Robert? Though every effort is made to humanize Robert and paint the 15 year old Marcy as a worthy partner, that's a tough case to make.
When reading this book at times I had a strong emotional reaction to the recognizable characteristics of people from my part of the country who are nearly my own age. The profound changes that occurred in the late 1960s and 1970s were not evident in this book. What if we were still thinking as we did in high school? Yikes.
The book is available in the public library, at UVa, and from Amazon.
David Huddle, The Story of a Million Years, Houghton Mifflin, 1999, 190 pages.