Should Your Book Club Read Three Stages of Amazement by Carol Edgarian?

If you’re looking for the bottom line, here it is: absolutely yes.  This is a perfect book for book clubs, and if you don’t belong to one and you’re reading it on your own, you’ll still love it.

Quick plot overview:
The story takes place during one pivotal year, 2009, the first year of Obama’s presidency.  The country is reeling from the financial crash of late 2008, but people are still clinging to the hope they’ve pinned on a new president and on the American dream that is, let’s face it, their birthright.  Charlie, a surgeon, and his wife Lena, a documentary film maker, want their little slice of entitlement and Charlie knows how they can get it.  He’s going to build a medical robot that can be used in remote locations and the venture capitalists in California will fund it and they will all live happily ever richer.

So Charlie and Lena move to San Francisco “ready for luck.”  They have “made their deal.  Charlie would give everything to Nimbus and Lena would handle the rest.”  The slight glitch is that “the rest” is quite a bit, and this puts a strain on the marriage that it may not survive.

Meanwhile, in a beautiful mansion in Pacific Heights in San Francisco, live Cal and Ivy.  Cal is Lena’s estranged uncle, a fact that concerns Charlie immensely.  Because guess who wants to invest in Nimbus and make Charlie and Lena super successful and wildly wealthy?  You guessed it–Uncle Cal.  Charlie is caught between a rock and a hard place, and without giving anything away, let’s just say he risks getting crushed between the two.

The plot thickens as we meet Alessandro, the mysterious Italian who works for Cal but who was once Lena’s lover.  Alessandro’s job puts him in a position to have a direct impact on Charlie’s success–and on his marriage with Lena. 

The opening line of Three Stages of Amazement begins “The modern marriage has two states, plateau and precipice…”  And yes, this novel is about marriage.  It’s not about the wedding, nor the divorce.  It’s about that in-between part, the real thing, marriage.  What creates a marriage, what’s the glue that holds a marriage together, what a marriage does to the couple in it…you could spend an entire meeting over just this issue, but this novel is also about so much more.  What else can your book club talk about when discussing it?

The title, for starters.  The book is divided into three sections: Silence, Disbelief, and Talk.  I was fortunate enough to attend an evening where the bright and beautiful Carol Edgarian spoke about her book, and when asked about the title, she tied it to how people react when they are amazed by something.  First, silence–kind of a stunned silence.  Next, the brain’s not really accepting it, so there’s disbelief.  Finally, as we process what’s going on, we begin to talk.

I love this explanation because it works on so many levels for this book.  Many of the characters go through the three stages of amazement on a personal level as they confront various events of their lives, but also the entire country is going through the same three stages following the catastrophic crash of the financial markets.  Carol Edgarian does an amazing job of capturing the zeitgeist of that little slice of time between when those cataclysmic events occurred and when people finally accepted those events as real, permanent, and part of a new way of life.  You can view this novel as a coming-of-age story for an entire country, when innocence was lost and disillusionment set in.

No doubt you’ll want to discuss the characters in depth, and as you do so, see how each character’s desire is playing a role in the story. And their principles.  And their secrets.  And how all three of these interact to create unexpected results.  A major theme in the book is whether or not we have any control over our lives; is there such a thing as fate, destiny, luck, or are we asserting our own will?

As summer approaches, it is perfect timing to read this book.  It’s fast-paced enough to read on a trip, but literary enough to keep you interested and engaged.  A “cerebral beach read”–now that’s the ticket!  Whether you go to the beach alone or with your book club, you’ll enjoy Three Stages of Amazement.

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