The Twoweeks by Larry Duberstein is written artfully, almost archly, in onion-like layers. The beginning and ending form the outer layer, which wraps around the book; the beginning makes a lot more sense after you’ve read to the end.
At the beginning, readers have no idea who Jake & Cecily, Hetty, Iris etc. are except that they’re adult children driving together with their own children through the snow to spend time with the extended family in Vermont during Christmas week, 2008. And just when readers have gleaned something about these travelers from their banter in the car, they drop completely out of the narrative (except Jake and Hetty as children) until their brief reappearance at the very end. Cal and Lara – the parents, the real main characters – take over the story.
Cal and Lara’s reminiscences about and parsing of events before, during, and after the experimental two weeks they spent together over three decades ago (each married to someone else at the time) form the second layer of the book. Journal pages recording Lara’s memories about each day of “the Twoweeks,” as they called it, which were stored and forgotten for decades, and only just unearthed from a dusty box in the barn form the innermost layer of the book, form the center of the narrative.
The Twoweeks is written in experimental style, almost more like a play than a novel. We seem to be expected to be completely familiar with Cal and Lara’s current situation, although the novel doesn’t concern itself much with that. Readers listen to Cal (an actor) and Lara (a poet) correct and contradict each other’s memories of the Twoweeks –that shared time outside of normal life – as they read (we along with them) in the present, pages that present Lara’s perspective at the time. It’s a love story of sorts, but The Twoweeks is actually a pretty unsentimental dissection of what turned out, to everyone’s surprise, to be a grand passion, although it does gloss over the pain the actual divorces must have inflicted. The divorces are long in the past; everyone has survived and moved on.
So what, exactly, did I think of The Twoweeks? After I got over being annoyed with the author for not developing his characters in the traditional, novelistic way, it grew on me! I went from seeing Cal as self-centered, clownish, and full of himself to seeing him as a flawed but well-meaning person, basically mirroring Lara as she goes from seeing Cal as someone to get out of her system and forget to recognizing him as (if she believed in such a thing) her soulmate. By the end of their Twoweeks, I was wishing them both the best.
Disclosure: I received an advance reading copy of The Twoweeks through the LibraryThing Early Reviewer program. (In this case, calling it the “Late” Reviewer program would be more appropriate. Sorry, LibraryThing!)
The Permanent Press