Robin Black’s novel Life Drawing opens with the narrator, Augusta (Gus), saying, “In the days leading up to my husband Owen’s death . . . .” This story is not going to have a happy ending.
Gus and Owen have been a couple for decades, but several years before the story opens, Gus had a brief, passionate affair with the father of one of her art students. After ending the affair, she confessed her transgression to Owen, who though deeply wounded, agreed to stay with Gus. An unanticipated legacy provides them the opportunity to move from the city to a remote farmhouse, where they hope quiet and solitude will help heal their damaged marriage, and they establish a companionable routine.
When a stranger named Alison rents the abandoned house across the field, Gus, feeling lonely and still haunted by guilt, slips easily into a deep friendship with the new neighbor. The women share confidences, the couple shares dinners with Alison, and the fragile equilibrium that Gus and Owen had established is thrown off. An ailing parent, the arrival of Alison’s daughter, and a surprising bit of news from Gus’s former lover all further unbalance Gus and Owen’s marriage and lead to the death foreshadowed in the book’s opening lines.
Life Drawing is billed as a thriller, but it is more than that. It is also a detailed examination of marriage—the way betrayal undermines a relationship and that sheer will is sometimes all that keeps together two people who love each other.