Seattle’s celebrated librarian puts wit and intelligence into “George & Lizzie,” her first foray into fiction. She will appear Sept. 5 at the Seattle Public Library Central Branch.
“George & Lizzie: A Novel”
by Nancy Pearl
Touchstone, 278 pp., $25
Marriage is that strange institution in which two people are joined together as one, metaphysically speaking. But when opposites attract, as they often do, their oneness can become a jarring fit.
This is the material that Nancy Pearl turns into her romp of a novel, “George & Lizzie,” the latest chapter in the career of Seattle’s celebrated librarian and author/speaker of “Book Lust” fame. Concerning Pearl’s first foray into fiction, what surprises is the wit and intelligence she puts on display; what perplexes is the union between George, who invariably looks at the sunny side of life, and Lizzie, a self-doubter and kvetcher who returns George’s love with, at best, lukewarm appreciation.
Maybe it’s the optimist in him that thinks he can reform someone who, like Linus in the comic strip “Peanuts,” goes through life clinging to her metaphorical security blanket and over-analyzing every move she makes. Whatever the reason, George Goldrosen goes ga-ga for this gun-shy (matrimonially speaking) English major he meets when they’re both students at the University of Michigan. In fact, he’s so relentlessly positive about her and the world in general that it’s positively irritating (to this reviewer, at least).
The author of “George & Lizzie: A Novel” will appear with Katy Sewall at 7 p.m. Tuesday, Sept. 5, Seattle Public Library Central Branch, 1000 Fourth Ave., Seattle; free (206-652-4255 or townhallseattle.org).
Little wonder that George becomes perhaps the only dentist in history who translates drilling teeth into a side career as an inspirational speaker.
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Meanwhile, the object of Mr. Smiley’s devotion, Lizzie Bultmann, spends their courtship and first years of marriage secretly mourning the guy who got away, as well as her ill-begotten decision to have sex with all the starters on her high school’s football team. The narrative alternates between George and Lizzie’s evolving relationship and Lizzie’s asides concerning the teammates she seduced as well as visions of Jack, her vanished soul mate.
Although George and Lizzie share Jewish roots, hers spring from two behavioral psychologists who shunned both religion and affection, using their only child as a laboratory for their professional work. George, meanwhile, grew up in a cheerfully nonintellectual and inclusive household that celebrated Christmas and just about anything involving their son, even Lizzie. Obviously, these disparate backgrounds help explain why George is so openhearted, and Lizzie — as George tells her in one of his I’ve-just-about-had-it moments — has the emotional age of a 3-year-old.
Can this marriage be saved? Read the book to find out. Meanwhile, the unanswered question: Will this woman ever get counseling? Watching Lizzie’s inability to find her groove and listening to her negative self-talk points not just to a pessimistic nature, but to clinical depression, which calls for more than George’s cheery disposition can manage.
Of course, having been a subject of study since childhood, Lizzie has a right to feel squeamish about seeking professional help.
But don’t expect too much on this front from Pearl’s story. It isn’t case management. Rather, it’s a fun read, a work of fiction contrasting personalities that are deliberately extreme in order to deliver a simple point: Compatibility in marriage has less to do with common personality traits than it does recognizing how much the other person means to you, whatever the reason.