A sweeping, richly compassionate novel about marriage, ambition, and the reclaiming of love - by the bestselling novelist and cofounder of Narrative magazine.
Many love stories end in marriage; rare is the love story that begins with one - already promised, already worn. Set in San Francisco during the first year of Obama’s presidency, Three Stages of Amazement deftly charts the struggles and triumphs of Lena Rusch and her husband Charlie Pepper, still believe they can have it all - sex, love, marriage, children, career, brilliance. But life delivers surprises and tests - a stillborn child, an economic crash, a ruthless business rival and the attentions of an old lover. Touched by tragedy and by ordinary hopes unmet, Lena and Charlie must face, for the first time in their lives, real limitation.
Fifteen years after her stunning debut, Rise the Euphrates, Carol Edgarian has created a panoramic and deeply moving story about business and family and the demands of love in our time. She takes readers on a spellbinding journey inside America today, with an unforgettable cast of characters including Cal Rusch, Lena’s uncle, a Silicon Valley titan, and Ivy, his socialite wife, who engender complication in the lives of all the people they touch: their grown children, business partners, friends, the servants and workers upon whom the glamorous life depends - and Lena, whose quest for grace is the pulse of this gorgeous novel.
As Lena and Charlie, Ivy and Cal, face the temptations of their youth and the fantasy of the redo, they discover that real life is the ultimate challenge. Told with eloquence and compassion, Three Stages of Amazement is a true thriller of the heart, a riveting story about confronting adversity, gaining wisdom, and finding great love.
Thirty-somethings Lena and Charlie don’t have it easy. As Three Stages of Amazement begins, they are still mourning the death of an infant daughter while frequently in the ER with baby Willa. Charlie’s high-tech medical start-up keeps him away more than at home, and Lena is overwhelmed trying to juggle her work in TV while caring for the baby and Theo, their preternaturally astute 5-year-old. But the marriage will be further tested as an Italian ex-boyfriend reappears; the boom market of the early 2000s starts to slide; and relatives with bad blood begin interfering. This is the somewhat overloaded premise of Carol Edgarian’s timely and well-played love story.
Noted actress Anne Twomey brings Lena’s intelligence and passion to the forefront, making her attractiveness to the men in the novel easy to understand. Despairingly lonely, she is also resentful of her role holding down the fort while her brilliant and compassionate doctor husband, who is utterly devoted to her and their children, sees to their fiscal future. When Charlie responds to a business offer by Lena’s despised Uncle Cal, a ruthlessly successful investment titan, not only is her anger inflamed, but her passion too. Alessandro, her ex, pops up at the same time, perfectly positioned for seduction and a cash infusion, too, given his position in Cal’s firm. ‘Sandro’s plummy Italian accent, courtesy of Twomey, and poetic sensuality generate plenty of romantic suspense. (In fact Twomey vocally sketches everyone from the Guatemalan nanny to Charlie’s salt-of-the-earth Back Bay business partner with convincing nuance.)
With Twomey’s gruff, barking delivery, Cal is a clearly defined misanthrope and ‘Top Dog’, taking on big stakes strategies and internecine traps. It’s a very Madoff milieu (Bernie’s name is dropped several times) and Cal’s wife Iris inhabits it with gusto, hosting, for example, an over-the-top party featuring Al and Tipper at which Norah Jones performs. Yet it is in Iris’ journey in the final chapters of her life (and the novel), in her search to understand herself as mother, wife, and individual, that the novel gains dramatic poignancy.
Three Stages of Amazement is storytelling that makes for good listening, thanks to Twomey’s contributions. And it offers an effective portrait of a just-elapsed cultural moment in American 21st century life. Elly Schull Meeks
"Carol Edgarian's novel is a book about grown-ups for grown-ups. Given that we never really grow up, yet have to make our way in the world, it ends up being thought provoking, intelligent, wise, sad, and illuminating. If that makes it sound too lofty, it's not: it's humane and therefore sometimes funny, and it nails the complexities of adulthood with a steel hammer held gently in very capable hands." (Ann Beattie, author of Walks with Men and Ann Beattie: The New Yorker Stories)
“Love, family, marriage, illness and money--this is a life story and a love story for our era, beautifully observed, sharply etched by a master storyteller.” (Amy Bloom, author of Away and Where the God of Love Hangs Out)
"In Three Stages of Amazement, Carol Edgarian gives you a brilliant and irresistible look at married life and happiness and the very human limitations of both. She's a wonderful writer." (James Salter, author of Light Years and A Sport and a Pastime)
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- Sharon Nemeth Murch