STARRED REVIEW
July 10, 2018

Lazy liaisons

By Andrew Martin

The weather isn’t the only thing that’s steamy in Charlottesville, Virginia, in Andrew Martin’s debut novel. Early Work is the smart, if rueful, story of a love triangle, with all the painful fallout that usually attends that particular emotional geometric configuration.

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The weather isn’t the only thing that’s steamy in Charlottesville, Virginia, in Andrew Martin’s debut novel. Early Work is the smart, if rueful, story of a love triangle, with all the painful fallout that usually attends that particular emotional geometric configuration.

When Peter, the novel’s narrator, glimpses Leslie, it’s a case of lust at first sight. But he faces one towering obstacle if he wants to consummate his desire: For five years he’s been in a relationship with Julia, a medical resident and poet, and sincerely believes they’d “continue to be together for the long, inevitably more complicated, run.” And there’s also the inconvenient fact that Leslie has her own attachment to a fiancé she’s left behind in Texas.

Both aspiring writers, Peter and Leslie aren’t doing much more than toying with works in progress—his a novel he fears will “never cohere into the, what, saga of ice and fire” his friends are imagining, and hers a script she’s being “encouraged,” rather than paid, to write. It seems both are ripe to fall into a summer fling, if only as a source of perceived respite from their unproductive literary efforts.

In Peter’s account—one whose tone alternates between self-lacerating insight and something akin to magical thinking—the desultory relationship doesn’t appear to bring much satisfaction to either character as the tension builds inevitably toward the moment when Julia learns of Peter’s infidelity, a scene that Martin portrays with understated grace.

Early Work isn’t interested in rendering moral judgment on Peter and Leslie’s affair, but it doesn’t shrink from portraying the bleak consequences of the mutual self-absorption that seems to be the driving force in their liaison. Even with that quality of reserve, there’s a lesson to be learned from this quiet novel: Sometimes we’re better off not getting what we want.

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Early Work

Early Work

By Andrew Martin
FSG
ISBN 9780374146122

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