Trying to put her wild past behind her, a young woman struggles to be the perfect wife—and teaches her husband the pleasures of being bad
Andrea Kleinman is getting married, and her life is going to change. It has to, because for Mrs. Benstock to be perfect, she’s going to have to forget all about Miss Kleinman—the wild young girl who rushed straight from Bryn Mawr to the West Village, where easy love and free-flowing liquor sent her on a downward spiral, and life became so bleak that she was left with a choice between death and a return to Buffalo, a return to her parents, a return to normal life.
Now she’s marrying Mark the lawyer, and it appears things will be very normal. But even in Buffalo, bad girls can’t stay perfect forever.
(Author's Amazon intro...)
I can trace the origin of A Week as Andrea Benstock to two distinct sources. The first inspired my attempting the book, while the second inspired its form. Let me consider the second first. In 1949, the Belgian author Georges Simenon published a novel called—well, who knows what he called it, but the English translation bore the title—Four Days in a Lifetime. I must have read it sometime in the late 1950s because what I recall of the experience is that I was in my parents’ house on Starin Avenue at the time. Besides its title, all I remember of the book is its structure. It consisted of four parts, each taking place entirely within a single day of its protagonist’s life. And those four days were all you needed. They gave you the full picture of the man’s existence . . . or, at least, all Simenon felt like giving you. I thought it was brilliant, and the device—if not the plot or characters—stayed in my mind. If Simenon gave me the structure of Andrea Benstock, a woman named Peggy Roth pointed me at the book’s subject matter and at the same time made me believe I was good enough to write it. Peggy was a highly-placed editor at Dell Publishing. My own editor there, Bill Grose, reported to her, and on one occasion in the early 1970s the three of us had lunch together. I’d written a batch of sex fact books for Dell, but at the time I don’t believe Dell had published any of my fiction. I don’t remember much about our lunch except that we all had a lot to drink. The conversation wandered all over the place, and at one point Peggy asked me who my favorite writer was. I replied (and would very likely still reply) that it was John O’Hara.“Oh, you’re a much better writer than he ever was,” Peggy Roth said. Now that could only have been the martinis talking, and I’m sure I knew it at the time and surely know it now. She couldn’t possibly have believed it, and if she did, well, she was wrong. But her words, even if I recognized them as outrageous and alcohol-driven, nevertheless allowed me to believe that I might try to play in that league. I’d never get a Golden Glove or hit for the circuit, but I might be able to sit on the bench. Maybe pitch batting practice, say. Then Peggy asked me about my background, and I said I’d grown up in a middle-class Jewish family in Buffalo, New York. “Then that’s what you should write about,” she said. I don’t think it had ever occurred to me that anyone would want to read a novel with such a setting or that I would ever want to write one. But Peggy Roth, a perceptive and intelligent woman, thought that was what I should write. That didn’t send me rushing to my desk, but it was something to think about.I don’t remember when it all came together, but eventually I found I had a book in mind. Like Simenon’s novel, it would consist of scattered days in a life—not four but seven of them, the titular week in the protagonist’s life. And they’d be strewn over a decade, beginning with her wedding, when she takes her husband’s name and becomes Andrea Benstock. The days chosen wouldn’t necessarily be the days on which major events in her life happened but would rather be representative days. And there’d be no elaborate recapitulation of what had transpired in the months and years between one day and the next; we’d get that information, but only insofar as it would be apt to come to her mind at each present moment. I don’t keep journals, so I can’t say just when I started work on the book or even when I finished it. It took a while. Because of its utterly episodic structure, it was easy to put it aside between sections and turn to something else, something with the promise of immediate income. I was married to my first wife when I began the book, and that marriage ended in the summer of 1973. I moved into a studio apartment on West 58th Street, and that same year Peggy Roth died far too young of pneumonia. When I finished the book, she was one of its two dedicatees; the other was my stepfather, Joe
Another Audible outing with Lawrence Block and one markedly different from his work both before and after. A Week as Andrea Benstock catalogues seven days in the life of Andrea, though each day is separated in time by several years.
We initially meet her on her wedding day. Other days relayed concern infidelity following a visit to an old haunt and a hook up with an old friend, the death of a parent, the conduct of an affair, young children and being a mum, a marital breakdown and a move back to New York from Buffalo, a working life, the suicide of a college friend and in time the celebration of a wedding anniversary after an obvious reconciliation.
I enjoyed it, but then I pretty much enjoy anything Block had turned his hand to. With each day we get not just the detail of what transpires, but a large context of what is going on in Andrea Benstock's life and how she feels about it.
I found it funny how she can justify her own ongoing affair with a family friend and work colleague of her husband. For her there is no emotional involvement and it's purely a physical transaction for both parties. When later in life (the book and days related cover more than ten years) her husband is obviously conducting an affair of his own, she is angry, hurt and fearful, because she isn't privvy to the emotions of the parties involved. I can ackowledge her pain, but can't get past the double standards she applies.
The book kind of reminded me of a few episodes of a TV soap - Eastenders maybe. Or more accurately Peyton Place - not that I can recall too much about that one. Or even a documentary. There's a kind of fly on the wall aspect to the intimate detail of a woman steering her way through life, getting older, not necessarily getting wiser, growing up, finding out secrets from her mother about her parent's marriage and discovering through lived experience that life isn't always sunny.
Interesting, unusual and peculiarly satisfying - I mean who doesn't like peeking behind other people's curtains?
Overall a really entertaining book even though I don't think I actually liked Andrea Benstock that much.
4.5 stars from 5
Read - (listened to) January, 2022
Published - 1975
Page count - 304 (9 hrs 30 mins)
Source - Audible purchase
Format - Audible