Carol Edgarian’s second novel explores how many trials a marriage can stand. Lena and Charlie are struggling emotionally and financially. At one time a successful surgeon, Charlie has given up most of his practice to develop a robotic surgery device, and in the economic reversals of the current decade, few are eager to invest in his invention. After the tragic loss of a prematurely born twin, Lena gave up her job to care for the surviving daughter, who suffers from severe developmental problems, and a precocious five-year-old son. When Charlie goes behind Lena’s back to make a deal with her estranged uncle Cal, a Silicon Valley tycoon, Lena’s sense of betrayal threatens to destroy the already fragile threads that hold the family together.
Lena and Charlie’s marriage is not the only one that comes under Edgarian’s microscope. Cal and his socialite wife Ivy are at the other end of the spectrum, with financial stability and grown children. But the creature comforts of an affluent lifestyle can’t always soften the petty cruelties and misunderstandings that occur over a decades-long partnership. As Lena and Charlie are drawn more deeply into Cal and Ivy’s world, they each face the limitations a shaky economy can place on life and love.
Edgarian’s characters fully inhabit this all-too-familiar world of marital squabbles, wounded pride and unpaid bills. Her depiction of the frustrations and joys of motherhood is hilariously on target, when it’s not tragic. Her characters are caught in the rhythms of trying, failing and trying again—patterns that superbly mimic those of everyday life.
Perhaps in an attempt to provide a more panoramic snapshot of the times we live in, Edgarian creates additional problems for her couples, including the presence of an old flame of Lena’s who also works for Cal. This and the too-tidy ending threaten to capsize the network of believable emotions and events that Edgarian has so carefully constructed. Yet Three Stages of Amazement is notable for its attempt to explore how families navigate through hard times, both financial and emotional.