It is said that marriage is the only adventure open to the cowardly. But is it fair to say that Jon Kepilkowsky is a coward because he's cheating on his wife, Ginny, with a cute young co-worker? Or is he a victim doomed to repeat the same mistakes made a generation ago in this same Wisconsin town? These are the delicious questions posed by Christina Schwarz (Drowning Ruth) in her wonderfully moody new novel, So Long at the Fair.
At first glance, Jon is your average walking cliche – the man who has it all and doesn't realize it. A nice home, a good if not fabulous job in advertising and, most importantly, a beautiful wife who married him even though he arguably caused an accident that left her seriously injured. Still, Jon can't help feeling something is missing from his perfect-on-paper life. His marriage to Ginny feels stale, even their arguments forming a predictable pattern: "By this point in their marriage, they'd locked themselves into that roller coaster so often, said and done so many unforgivable things, hashed out and made up so many times, that the ride was no longer sure to be a thrill. Sometimes now, it was better just to short-circuit the whole thing, bypass the ups and downs . . . and just skip to the end, where in any case they always got off right where they'd gotten on." But as in any small town, secrets are everywhere, scattered just beneath the surface like pebbles under the soil. Years ago, Jon's own parents and Ginny's parents became enmeshed in a scandal that changed each of their lives.
So Long at the Fair drifts back and forth between a hot day in July during which Jon must decide whether to end his marriage, and the night in 1963 in which similarly irrevocable choices were made. It all sounds so dramatic (and it is) but Schwarz masterfully captures small-town life in all its gossipy glory. Wry, keenly observed and surprising, So Long at the Fair will leave you somewhere between heartbreak and laughter.
Amy Scribner writes from Olympia, Washington.