Then, last week, I got onto part two - which turned out to be the main story of the book - one that happened ten years before the initial part of the book, and is about the denial of love.
Karen, the main protagonist (who is engaged to Ray who has had to go overseas) has been invited by Naomi (who is the spinster in the first part of the book) to tea with Naomi's fiancé, Max. These three, Max, Karen and Naomi, are old acquaintances. Karen is wary of Max and has been reluctant to meet him again - and only does so to please Naomi. As usual Max and Karen spar with each other, and once again Karen is hurt while Naomi tries to maintain peace.
The following scene is pivotal and my favourite part of the book. They are having tea outside the old house of Naomi's late aunt and it is almost time to go. Naomi has gone inside to answer the door to someone while Max and Naomi remain sitting under the trees.
'...There was nothing left to do but lock up the house; they ought to start back soon. The poplars, the crimson-showering cherry, the lawn, the window belonging to the past already. An indoor chill, like in some room where nothing ever goes on, began to settle on Karen.
"We'll bring the tray in when we go."
But they both sat back, her hand near his. Max put his hand on Karen's, pressing it into the grass. Their unexploring, consenting touch lasted; they did not look at each other or at their hands. When their hands had drawn slowly apart, they both watched the flattened grass beginning to spring up again, blade by blade.
Naomi came out busily through the window, taking off her overall, flapping the white sleeves. 'Alas,' she said, 'this time tomorrow we shall be gone, Karen.'
That act, on its own, simply stated and then left there, stayed in my mind. There is no description of thought or feeling, but just that statement of the way they watched the grass rebound - it is terse, powerful and significant.
There is more fine writing in this very fine book. I found it on Jane Smiley's booklist in THIRTEEN WAYS OF LOOKING AT A NOVEL (another good book I haven't finished - but that book is very long) and it makes me want to read the rest of her suggestions.
Since then I have started another good book: NOW YOU SEE HIM by Eli Gottlieb. This is a much easier book and the pages are turning far more rapidly. I am two-thirds of the way through after just a few hours - as Ann Patchett says, it is a literary page-turner. It is about friendship, marriage and family with stunning descriptions of grief and bereavement.