Reviews: March/April 2019

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Late Air
Jaclyn Gilbert ’07
Little A (Amazon Publishing), $24.95
Reviewed by Alex Beam ’75

Boston Globe columnist Alex Beam ’75 is at work on a book about Mies van der Rohe and Edith Farnsworth.

Late Air poses an often-asked question: how and when does a marriage go wrong? Jaclyn Gilbert’s protagonists, Samuel Murray and Nancy Weber, should perhaps never have married in the first place. They hail from different “backgrounds,” that insidious word that attempts to mask America’s class sensibilities. Murray’s father worked in a coal mine; Nancy’s father played golf at Brown. But as Gilbert artfully demonstrates, marriage often tests for compatibility long after the wedding, in cruel and unexpected ways.

Murray and Nancy are never on the same page, figuratively speaking. Murray is a former Olympic runner who coaches women’s cross country at Yale. (Gilbert also competed in cross country at Yale.) He is a successful coach, but not a good one. He seems to push his athletes into injuries. He is not, as his wife can attest, particularly attuned to the emotional needs of women, or of anyone.

Nancy is a PhD-toting curator at the Beinecke. While Murray processes the world numerically, carving his lifeline into splits, heats, and sub-five-minute miles, she inhabits a world of rare books and obscure manuscripts. She offers to find James Baldwin’s unpublished notes on a Harlem Renaissance artist for a needy, erudite young academic, and an ill-advised entanglement ensues.

One of Late Air’s sophistications is what it succeeds in not being about. Even though Nancy takes up running in middle age, and her estranged husband is a famous coach, Late Air is not about running. It’s also not about Yale, though Yale and New Haven are its stage sets. It is about running the course of life, about men’s and women’s struggles in the face of terrifying obstacles. Murray and Nancy are finally together on the last page. But don’t read too much into that.

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