Monday, April 1, 2024

Book Review: The Marriage Sabbatical

By Jami Denison

Polyamory is the latest trend in relationships…it seems everyone is doing it. With everyone. My inner Carrie Bradshaw can’t help but wonder how people juggle more than one partner when it’s hard enough finding time for him with work responsibilities, family needs, exercise, etc. When I picked up Lian Dolan’s latest women’s fiction novel, The Marriage Sabbatical, I expected it to explore the complications of multiple relationships outside of the main one. Instead, The Marriage Sabbatical is a gentle look at a decades-long marriage, and what happens when two people decide to take a geographic break to explore their own individual interests. With a relatively slow pace, low stakes, and lots of description, The Marriage Sabbatical wasn’t written to blow up marriages, but to defend them.

With two kids in college and a year-long sabbatical from his publishing job, Jason Elswick is excited for his nine-month motorcycling trip to South America with his wife, Nicole. But after a surprising dinner with neighbors who confess a “500 mile rule” for fidelity, Nicole confesses she doesn’t want to go on the trip after all. She wants her own sabbatical from cooking and taking care of the house—in Santa Fe, New Mexico, where she wants to study jewelry making. At first hurt, eventually Jason agrees… and the couple decides to adopt their own 500-mile rule. Can their marriage survive the separation and temptation? 

The Marriage Sabbatical is told from both spouse’s points-of-view, and at times Dolan meanders into head-hopping and even the point-of-view of other characters. Nevertheless, both Jason and Nicole come across as kind, thoughtful people you’d want as friends. The book takes place in the past and the present, alternating chapters as Dolan takes us through their first and second meetings, the early and later days of their marriage, and other milestones. 

What makes a marriage work? Is it possible to be happily married and still retain a sense of self? Whose needs should come first in a marriage? And how important is sex? Dolan does a bang-up job exploring these questions, but for me, her descriptions were the element that kept me turning pages. Nicole is a retail merchandiser with a strong sense of style, and I enjoyed every scene that featured her working with clothes or decorating a house or a shop. Santa Fe is depicted in such detail that I wanted to run out and buy turquoise jewelry and a plane ticket. Jason’s rugged motorcycle adventures make it clear that Nicole was right to opt out of the trip. The book is as much a travelogue as it is a novel.

Thanks to this book, Santa Fe is on my bucket list. But I won’t be taking a jewelry course, and I’ll definitely be traveling with my husband. The Marriage Sabbatical works great as a book, but as a life choice, it’s not for me.  

Thanks to William Morrow for the book in exchange for an honest review.

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