Against a lush Caribbean landscape, two couples on vacation meet and act out the small dramas of their marriages in a careful study of relationships honed on habit and unhappiness. But in this tropical paradise, an elegant resort that caters to its guests' every whim, both couples will come to terms with the realities of their choices. Jan DeGroot is dying of cancer, although he has gamely fought its determined advance for the last six years: "The knife-and-forking of his body seemed to give a perverse impetus to his will to survive." This Northern European couple has been sent on their "last holiday" by their grown sons, Annemieke DeGroot long trapped in her own discontent, almost anxious to get on with the rest of her life, her beauty fading while she waits for Jan's demise. In contrast, George and Dorothy, an English couple, have been married nearly sixty years, their habits entrenched with the daily bickering over nonsense that has become familiar.
George makes friends with Jan, though Dorothy and Annemieke could hardly be less compatible. Yet the heightened awareness of distance brings a flavor of friendship, at least for the men, who surprisingly find a sympathetic ear as they exchange stories and disappointments, lingering over drinks. While Dorothy drifts along in her own musings, George's complaints turn to a more honest appraisal of their shared years: "You couldn't tell him that there was any marriage that wasn't equal measure love and hate." Even Dorothy enjoys occasional insights, although she'd rather be at home amid her things: "Being an old lady was not as hard as being an old man." With a supporting cast of other resort-goers, a South African with a penchant for honesty who has a short fling with Annemieke, a long-haired, tattooed tile-setter, "the Americans" who demand their needs be instantly attended and the resort director, Jan and George sort through memories and plans for the future, limited though it may be, while Annemieke thrashes about in an effort to avoid her own shortcomings.
The characters are drawn with deft precision, their flaws and eccentricities stark against the lush background of the Caribbean resort. Each couple suffers the detritus of years of marriage, the petty rivalries and jealousies, silences and resentments. The author writes with such clarity that each page bespeaks a glance into a mirror, these protagonists as familiar as the spouse who snores when sleeping or habitually remarks on the other's failures, days of meant-to-do-better, years finally passed. In a novel that is neither maudlin nor depressing, the author carefully manipulates the myriad contradictions of each marriage with a compassionate eye and a talent for incisive observation, balancing flaws, fictions and attributes in an incisive characters study. Luan Gaines/ 2006.