Publication date: March 21st 2017
How to describe Sarah Dunn’s new novel The Arrangement? All that is in my head is the Seinfeld episode where Jerry and Elaine decide to break the standards of friends and become friends-with-benefits. They are oh-so-careful with rules and boundaries and are certain they have cracked the code for getting to have sex without becoming involved. Dunn goes one step further in applying this to the Valhalla (for certain people) of open marriage. Owen and Lucy love each other but with a young son on the autism spectrum who gets violent and over a decade together the spark is gone. Lucy is tired.
Earrings were so long gone, the holes in her ears had closed up. Next it was eyeliner, then mascara, then returning phone calls, then going to the dentist, then looking in a full-length mirror before she left the house, then lip gloss…pedicures, flossing, stretching, remembering birthdays, exfoliation.
When friends share that they’ve moved to an open marriage and it is “fabulous” and “helping our marriage so much” Owen and Lucy carefully craft a plan to do the same thing in order to save their own marriage. They discuss, plan, draw up a list of rules. They even have a beginning and end date for this experiment. Right. Nothing can go wrong with this.
Of course, if nothing did go wrong, The Arrangement would be dull. Instead, with the best of intentions for reinvigorating their marriage Lucy and Owen begin opening their eyes to the potential candidates around them. Soon enough both meet people who seem to be what they need, but while things are fun at first they soon get complicated because the rest of their life continues to clamor with its demands and needs.
I loved Dunn’s previous novel, Secrets to Happiness and so was delighted to see that she writes The Arrangement in the same lighthearted tone. When very early on, she describes one of Lucy’s friends as
She teetered around on her trademark vintage heels, which made her look like she might trip and fall straight into late middle age.
I laughed out loud and knew that barring a massive plot fail this novel would work for me and it did. It’s a realistic look at men and women, the ties that bind, and a lot of other modern day issues told with the kind of humor that deflects, but doesn’t deny the truth. Does the plot veer into the world of zany? Yes, a bit, but with a premise like ‘open marriage as a good idea to save a marriage’, things are bound to get weird. Thankfully, Dunn’s observational skills and wit balance out the crazy and circle The Arrangement back to the less exciting, but no less interesting realities of life.