Wednesday, July 25, 2018


Title: The Intermission
Author: Elyssa Friedland
Publisher: Berkley Books
Pages: 368
My GoodReads Rating: ⭐⭐⭐

The book starts with the Prologue when newly married Jonathan and Cass Coyne predict that they will be happily married for over 50 years. Five years later, in Chapter 1, we see that they have drifted apart. Their sex life has reduced to a bare minimum, and they are going through the motions, barely connecting on any significant level.

The situation comes to a head when Cass, who works in a theatrical ad agency and believes that any play can benefit from an intermission, decides that that mode of treatment can be just as effectively transposed to her marriage.

Bemoaning the loss of the spark between them, Cass proposes an intermission of six months, time apart to save the marriage before they have a baby. Once a month, they will meet to exchange custody of their pet dog, Puddles.

Anxious to make the most of the intermission, Cass leaves for California, as far from Jonathan and their NY home as possible. She hopes to regain control of her life, but in a short while, both she and Jonathan will find their lives taking unexpected turns. Will they find their way back to each other or will the distance between them grow too wide to be spanned? Is Cass about to get more than she bargained for?

The quirky book cover reflects the dynamics of their marriage, sleeping apart, bound only by Puddles, the unifying factor between them. 

The book is divided into three parts, with Act One – Together, Act Two – Intermission, and Act Three – After.

It is written in the third person past tense point of view of both Jonathan and Cass, in alternate chapters. At first it seemed to me that the point of view should have been first person. But then I realized that the author’s omniscient PoV was better since they were not yet ready to come clean with each other. There were plenty of secrets that they were still in denial about. Secrets that they would have to come clean with. Secrets that we already know about thanks to the flashbacks neatly scattered throughout the story.

Like any marriage, theirs begins with noble intentions. Cass tells herself that she will never say no to Jonathan for sex. But then married sex becomes a chore. And the irritations of daily life begin to sap their energy. The act of living with someone with different habits, eccentricities, and a whole different upbringing and background, takes a toll. As anyone who is married learns, not that we love our spouses the less, but that they irritate us the more. And eventually, the love gets tarnished by the constant abrasions.

It got me thinking of the differences we bring to our marriage. How we never reconcile ourselves to them completely. How men and women are different. How each finds the other complicated.

How we are not upfront with each other. Thoughts left unsaid were often weightier than words spoken out loud. Marriage becomes a battleground when niceties feel like expletives.

The burden of expectations weighs heavily. Cass believes that Marriage shouldn’t mean becoming one person, with each spouse swimming inside the other’s private thoughts. No, the best relationships were built like Venn diagrams of two overlapping circles, where the only variable was how big the shared part was and how much remained for the individual.

We come to know of the lies that are a part of every marriage. To be married, you have to be willing to accept certain fictions. And of how parenting and its responsibilities leaves men and women on different pages.

Eventually, spouses begin to keep score. Like an accountant maintaining a ledger of checks and balances.

As outsiders, looking in, we can smile at the chinks in their marriage, particularly if we can relate to them. As insiders, spouses are often too busy trying to claw their way out. 

And so it is that we learn that Jonathan probably has a permanent indentation from biting his tongue. It comes from his tolerating her bad habits, while she is totally vocal about his. His silences, as much as her complaints, lead to resentments.

The Intermission is not just about the marriage of Jonathan and Cass. We also learn more about the marriage of Jonathan’s parents, with his father’s constant affairs; Cass’ mother’s relationships with losers; the marriage of Jemima and Henry Wentworth.

Through the wedding of Jonathan’s youngest brother, Michael and his fiancée, Jordyn, we see how cheesy weddings can be. It’s also a reminder of how over-prepared we are for weddings, and how ill-prepared we are for marriages.

As characters, Jonathan and Cass are opposites not only in upbringing, but in the fact that their meeting years after college is serendipity, or so he thinks, while she knows that she engineered it.

In Jonathan’s words, Cass is the type of woman who requires much work. This we know too. Losing her job after the agency where she works closes down when her boss dies of cancer, Cass begins to overthink, resulting in Death by Detail for us.

Jonathan’s views encapsulate the belief that it doesn’t matter where you whet your appetite, just as long as you come home for dinner. On the other hand, Cass wouldn’t dream of looking at another man while she was married.

During the intermission, Cass makes it clear that they are both free to sleep with whoever they want to. This time, it is Jonathan who finds the thought initially unpalatable.

In the person of Cass, we see women’s tendency to expect men to mind-read, where everything becomes a test where you have to give the right answer. It is indeed exasperating, a habit I’ve tried to outgrow, but it creeps up on me now and again. It wasn’t a trick or a trap or a test. There was no “right” answer.

The six months, spread over 368 pages, felt too long. I could not understand Cass’ constant flip-flops over where their marriage was.

I couldn’t wait for them to end, and by them, I mean the intermission and the pages. In the end, my sympathies were firmly with Jonathan.

At one point, Jonathan feels like a yo-yo.

So did I.

(I received an ARC from First to Read).

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