Three Stages of Amazement
Surely you know Lena Rusch and Charlie Pepper: They're the seemingly perfect 40ish Bay Area couple, the ones with the nice house, the cute kid, the interesting careers—and the fun sex life, thanks to the "bells and whistles" we're told Charlie provides in bed. Lena and Charlie are so familiar, so knowable, that it's sometimes hard to remember they're fictional characters at the center of a lovely, resonant novel, Three Stages of Amazement (Scribner), by Narrative magazine editor Carol Edgarian. So guess what? The Rusch-Pepper union turns out to be not so perfect after all, but not for any big, topical reason—okay, Charlie, a doctor, is having trouble getting funding for his latest medical invention and Lena has lately been hearing from her dashing, successful ex-boyfriend—but because, well, marriage, and life, are just plain complicated. Edgarian's plot—about Lena's rich old venture capitalist uncle out to interfere with (or is it to help?) Charlie's business—is unique; but everything else in this story (the way long-married people talk, the conflicted emotions we have for family) feels universal. Not to mention generous and graceful and true.
— Sara Nelson