Walking Distance

(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

Married to Zachary, a schoolteacher, Laura lives a pleasant life consisting largely of caring for her four-year-old daughter Mia and reading manuscripts for a publisher. In the street she meets David, who has anonymously enjoyed Laura’s smile and her trips with Mia for a year and a half. David is dying of cancer, already past the nine months doctors allotted him. David and Laura fall in love, their situation complicated by Laura’s guilt toward Zachary and by the animosity of David’s teenage son Ethan. David’s wife Barbara cannot face her husband’s illness and turns to an affair with a tax lawyer. The time is fall, 1984.

David and Laura’s love affair serves as an axis around which spin the loves, and disappointments, of others. Laura’s grandmother Sophie lives in Brooklyn. Long a widow, Sophie is pursued by Monroe Silverstein, whose own wife died recently. Sophie serves as a kind of mentor to Aida, who lives in the same building with her sometimes violent lover and a daughter born the same day as Mia. David’s and Laura’s parents, both couples recently separated, are in regular telephone contact, largely complaining about their own troubles and about one another. The exception is David’s father George. He sees David regularly, trying to sustain his son and sometimes to amuse him with stories of his own love affairs.

Marian Thurm has published stories in THE NEW YORKER, MADEMOISELLE, MS., and elsewhere. In her first novel, she sustains the clarity and sophistication of her shorter fiction, perhaps with the exception of four-year-old Mia, who is a bit too cute and precocious. The author effectively plays secondary plots against the central issues of love and death which Laura and David confront. Separate styles and foibles of three generations are counterpointed. Laura’s husband Zachary is least rounded, but this distance lends credibility to Laura’s suffering. Both Laura and Aida give birth a second time, and this parallel is developed in such a way that the sordidness of Aida’s relation to her lover gives additional edge to Laura and David’s situation, which remains genteel, however deeply experienced.