A Stop in the Park
by Peggy Panagopoulos Strack
Within the fiction genre commonly labelled “coming-of-age” or “rite-de-passage”, one could perhaps nominate a sub-category with a title such as “self-realisation”. I’d place Peggy Strack’s novel under that heading. The quotation from Wayne Dyer (psychologist and self-help author) presented before the first chapter gives the gist: “Don’t die with the music still inside you. Listen to your intuitive inner voice and find what passion stirs your soul.”
The protagonists are a couple whose marriage has hit the skids; whether or not it will crash is a question answered at the end of the novel. Michael is a high-flying lawyer in New York, with all the attendant affluence and stress. “On top of that,” the narrator tells us, “Michael was married to a beautiful journalist, ran in marathons, owned a brownstone in Georgetown, and had two healthy daughters; yet he was miserable.” Moreover, he has a problem managing his anger.
Jamie, his wife, dropped her journalistic career to raise her children. Once physically active and outgoing, she is now pre-occupied with her body-weight and dieting. Her self-esteem is shaky.
Jamie has fallen out of love with Michael and contemplates ending the marriage. Michael still loves her but tends to behave in ways that don’t encourage reciprocation—bursts of anger, for instance. As he asks himself, is love enough?
The narration takes us through all the mundane aspects of modern suburban family-life as they grapple with their misery. Food and eating are prominent, along with bodily health, money, dealing with traffic problems, transporting children to various regular out-of-school activities, addiction to television. But behind and beneath these are the issues that the two characters need to face.
Michael’s story gets rather more emphasis than Jamie’s in the novel. The title of the book alludes to his encounter with an older man called Rufus, who acts out the “wise old man” archetype as Michael negotiates his mid-life crisis. They meet in a park near the beginning of the story and this is the start of Michael’s exploration of his unhappiness and other options for his life.
The situations and frustrations of the characters rang true for me. Essentially they are on a quest for personal authenticity—one of the most critical themes of the twenty first century. The author uses unpretentious but clear prose in her skilful narration from their respective points of view, encouraging strong empathy in the reader. It’s a compelling and relevant read which I heartily recommend.
For purchase go to Peggy Strack’s blog at http://pstrack.blogspot.com.au/