Title: Found Objects
Author: Peter Gelfan
Publisher: Nortia Press
Publication Date: May 21, 2013*
Source: e-ARC received from publisher for an honest review
Plot Summary from Goodreads:
Aldo Zoria is a successful commercial photographer who lives in a happy menage-a-trois with his wife and their lover along with the lover's two young children. Domestic bliss shatters when an unexpected guest arrives.
Found Objects tells a story of struggle between values and instincts, ideals and reality, whom we strive to become and whom we are born to be.
When I accepted this ARC for review, I knew I was stepping out of my comfort zone. The above description obviously tells you that the characters in the novel are involved in an odd domestic/sexual situation, and I was afraid that the content would border on erotica (not a genre I read/review). However, I got the sense that this book was more about the dynamic between the characters, rather than their sexual escapades, so I went for it.
Thankfully, I was correct. This novel is an intriguing study of human relationships, how we choose to form them, and the fragile balance that must be stricken in order for them to be successful. There is still sexual content, but it is not overly explicit, and it's present more to illustrate the evolution of each character rather than to titillate the reader.
When you dive into this book, get ready to stand your 'normal' ideas of love and domestic bliss on their heads. The story is told by Aldo Zoria, a photographer living in rural Vermont with Erica (his wife), Marie (their lover), and Dominic and Jasmine (Marie's kids from her now-defunct marriage). At the beginning of this tale, they are a happily-functioning (though very nontraditional) family of five. However, early on, an unexpected guest arrives at their house, causing the delicate balance of their family unit to be shaken. As the novel progresses (and the guest's presence persists), Aldo, Erica, and Marie are forced to consider what drove them together in the first place, and whether their future together is still plausible.
The thing I found most captivating about this novel was how each character was so inherently selfish, even though they were all professing a need to keep everyone else happy throughout this situation. This selfishness was best illustrated, for me, in how the adults interacted with Dom and Jas, the two kids.
"In our society now, with birth control, abortion, the acceptance of premarital sex among adults, and the distant approach of gender equality in the workplace, what do women need husbands for? With kitchen gadgets, microwave ovens, fast-food joints, and the sexual availability of single women, what do men need wives for? With women finding fulfillment at work, what do they need children for? Of course, all this heady freedom doesn't do a whole lot for kids, who still need two parents just as much as they ever did. If not three."
I think the structure of this passage exemplifies the way that Dom and Jas are approached throughout the novel. Aldo et al are so wrapped up in thinking through their own living arrangements and raisons d'etre that the collateral damage to the kids tends to occur to them later, if at all. Aldo constantly worries about whether his sexual escapades can be heard by Erica/Marie through the walls, but never worries about whether the kids can hear. They all show concern for the trouble that Dom and Jas have in school, but they never consider changing their way of life to address it.
But that leads us to the next question: should they have to change their lives in order to make life easier...for the kids, for their nosy neighbors, for themselves? This is a point that every reader is going to struggle with as they delve into this novel. If Aldo, Erica, and Marie are having such personal struggles because of their romantic relationship, and if it negatively impacts the children, why do they choose to continue it? It's easy to ask this of a romantic situation that you disapprove of (menage-a-trois is not on my love life to-do list), but...would you ask these questions of a two-person, opposite-sex couple that was in strife? A same-sex couple? I still don't inherently "approve" of a three-way domestic situation, but as I was reading, part of me felt like I didn't have the right to judge the mode of their happiness (or sadness). This is a complex issue for sure, and not one that is easy to bring to a conclusion.
I will tell you right now, don't go into Found Objects expecting an explosively dramatic plot. And don't expect to love every person in it (in fact, I quite disliked Aldo). Instead, expect this: a tightly-written, character-driven novel that shows a keen understanding of the intricacies of human relationships. You will be left mulling over the notions of free will, love, and domesticity. Any book that can make a reader ruminate on such lofty concepts is a winner in my eyes.
*Readers, I do apologize for bringing you this review so long before release date. Normally I do not do that (as a blog reader myself, I find it frustrating when I read an interesting review but can't get the book for over a month), but the original release date for this novel was next week, and I didn't realize it was pushed back until I started writing this. You can always pre-order if you're that determined! :)
Other reviews of Found Objects:
Good Book Fairy
4 The Love of Lit
What books have taken you out of your comfort zone lately?