Split-Level by Sande Boritz Berger, 4 Stars

Split-Level has a blurb from Joyce Carol Oates, who I LOVE! She said, “How impressive Split-Level is: wonderfully rich with details, fluent and fluid, with an inevitable-yet-unexpected ending, inspired throughout is a portrait of a woman whose essential life is an unconscious double-ness/split-ness.”

And when I first read the description of the book, on Netgalley, I was sold. There is something about that whole seventies time that is so alluring to me. Maybe it’s because my parents were young parents then and it’s hard to imagine them at that age?

Or maybe it’s that whole Ice Storm key party thing (which I’m hoping is completely separate from the first reason I cited). That so many women were feeling empowered and no longer content to be stay-at-home wallflowers. But somehow that resulted in a blurring of the marital lines. Men who perhaps were surprised by their wive’s boldness and needed something else? Or women who maybe needed to be bold in that way?

I don’t know, and I probably don’t need to. I’m sure there are volumes of psychology textbooks dedicated to the topic. BTW, if you haven’t read The Ice Storm, pick that one up! So good.

But without futher ado…

From the Publisher:

For young wife and mother, Alex Pearl, the post-Nixon 1970s offers pot parties, tie-dyed fashions, and the lure of the open marriage her husband wants for the two of them. Alex is a painter, stifled but loyal, and when she realizes just how far her husband’s eye has begun to wander, she’s faced with difficult choices about what marriage and family mean, and whether an “open” lifestyle mimicking communal living might be for her. Yearning for both greater adventure and intimacy, yet fearful of losing it all, Alex must figure out the truth of love and fidelity—at a pivotal point in an American Marriage.

My Review:

Alex is a frustrated mom for sure. She’s a stay-at-home mom of two small girls and is basically just going through the motions. Her mom is not exactly a motherly figure and lives far away in Florida to boot. Alex was an artist but now makes some extra money on the side painting shirts for summer camps. Anyone who has been a stay-at-home mom (or dad) for any length of time has been there.

Early on in the book, her husband suggests throwing a Valentine’s Day party. And that party is everything. She has purpose for the weeks leading up to the party–make all the food, invite all the guests, etc. etc. A project! I remember feeling that way about re-doing a bedroom or decorating a nursery. Something to do besides change diapers and clock watch.

Don’t get me wrong, kids are amazing. But those years when they are little and constantly need stuff? The years are fast but the days are hella long! And it’s so easy to have a mental crisis in the middle of it all–questioning your worth and purpose.

Donny, Alex’s husband, is bored too. I’m sure we can all probably identify or relate to him too. He used to come home to hot artist wife and now, she’s probably covered in cheerios and too exhausted to be anything but a mom when gets home. It’s just the perfect storm of having small kids.

So, when a friend’s husband dies, and Alex and Donny are faced with their own mortality, they decide to spice things up with some mutual friends of the deceased.

I thought Berger did an amazing job writing real, multi-dimensional characters. I really identified with Alex. And I think the breakdown of her marriage and of their friends’ was a very realistic portrait of the dangers of that type of relationship. There are just so many fine lines that can be crossed. The book also captured the 70’s well, and gave me that groovy vibe I was so hoping for when I picked it up.

Special thanks to Netgalley and She Writes Press for an e-galley in exchange for my honest review. This one is available now! Get your copy!


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