‘We think we know the ones we love’ is how Andrew Sean Greer opens this anatomy of an American marriage. The narrator is little Pearlie Cook, the wife of handsome Holland Cook. She is doing her darndest to create a happy home in 1950s San Francisco, where she lives beneath the fog that bedevilled the bay area back then. She is coping with the aftermath of the Second World War, and its heroes who have been returned to their families, feted but maimed. The beginnings of the Cold War swirl around her, with its terror of enemies everywhere. When she receives a visit from her husband’s old army friend, it is as if an earthquake has shaken her world.
Pearlie first met Holland back in Kentucky. They were childhood sweethearts whose relationship took an unusual turn when Holland’s mother hid him upstairs so that he could evade the draft. Pearlie was his only visitor. When he got so ill she feared