The first few pages of “Will You Please Be Quiet, Please?” run quickly through ten years in the life of Ralph Wyman, a young man whose father tells him, on Ralph’s graduation from high school, that life is a “very serious matter” and “an arduous undertaking,” which, despite its difficulties, can still be rewarding. Early in his college career, Ralph finds himself discarding potential careers he had envisioned for himself—law and medicine—when he finds the work too difficult or emotionally stultifying. He turns to literature and philosophy, in which he finds some stimulation. Most of his first college years, however, he spends aboard a stool in the local pub, until one special teacher, Dr. Maxwell, changes his life. Maxwell’s influence reshapes Ralph’s sense of his own future, and he becomes a “serious student,” joins a variety of campus organizations, finds himself a wife, Marian, and diligently prepares himself, during his last year, to become a teacher.
Before taking teaching positions in a small town in Northern California, Ralph and Marian marry. One afternoon on their honeymoon, Ralph walks up the road below their hotel and catches a glimpse of his new wife standing with her arms over the ironwork balustrade, her long black hair spun out by the breeze. The image is stunning, but the memory of her pose haunts him later because somehow he cannot see himself as part of the exotic world in which he imagined her for only that moment.
Five years pass quickly, and Ralph and Marian have two children. Marian teaches music at the local community college, but Ralph continues at the high school. One Sunday night, the only event to shock the quality of their relationship emerges from a memory that each has tried to bury, a memory that has reinforced Ralph’s fearful image of his wife on their Mexican honeymoon. When Marian, quite...
(The entire section is 768 words.)