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The Marriage Sabbatical


The Marriage Sabbatical

In this not-a-romance novel, Lian Dolan introduces Jason and Nicole Elswick, who have been married for 23 years. Jason is in publishing, and as he approaches his 25th anniversary with his company, he gets a one-year sabbatical. Since the death of his best friend, he is determined to fulfill their dream of traveling through Patagonia on motorcycles. Jason has the entire year planned. He will spend a few months in a small village on the Pacific with Nicole learning to surf and writing a book at the end of the trip. Then they will meet their children, two college students who are traveling abroad for the school year.

"THE MARRIAGE SABBATICAL is an enjoyable, light read that delves into the question of what holds a marriage together."

However, Jason isn’t aware that Nicole doesn’t want to make the trip with him. Her idea of a vacation isn't riding a motorcycle through mountains and rough terrain, getting dirty or camping out. Her dream sabbatical would involve a cozy mountain home with a fireplace or a modern lake cabin --- not a trip through the Andes and learning to surf in Nicaragua in a rented hut in a tiny town. But Jason has been planning this excursion for a while, and she had put off leveling with him for almost as long. So with the trip now happening, Nicole has no choice but to go along with it.

The rhythm of the narrative is that we see the story unfolding in the present, with the month and place of each chapter clearly noted up front. Other sections are similarly labeled with the setting, as well as the month and year, which provide the background of how Nicole and Jason met. Through these chapters set in the past, we see how their relationship developed over the past quarter-century.

What gives Nicole the impetus to finally come clean with Jason is a dinner they attend at their neighbors’ house. These are not friends, but rather a couple who live across the street. Over a poorly made paella, they explain to Nicole and Jason their 500-mile rule. When they are traveling for business and are farther than 500 miles apart, they are free to have sex with anyone they choose.

After this uncomfortable meal, Nicole tells Jason that instead of Patagonia, she wants to go to Santa Fe for a year to study silversmithing. And that's what happens. Jason travels to Patagonia, while Nicole heads to Santa Fe, and we see how the year affects each of them personally and the impact it has on their marriage.

While there are chapters from Jason's point of view sharing his activities in Patagonia, most are about Nicole and her time in Santa Fe. By making friends, she becomes a part of the community there. And through Dolan's detailed narrative about life in that mountainous town, we all want to follow in Nicole's footsteps and live in a charming casita in Santa Fe. It sounds idyllic and beautiful.

But what is of most interest is the growth that Nicole experiences. She learns more about herself and has time to reflect on her marriage and her life. Nicole is a likable character and is the first to admit that there are things she can't do, but she also comes to realize that there's a lot she can do. The glimpses into the past regarding the development of her relationship with Jason were well done, but there were times when the chapter ended and it felt like we didn’t really get to see how the whole event played out. I was hoping that the next chapter in the past would pick up where the previous one had left off, but that wasn't the case.

Despite this minor disappointment, THE MARRIAGE SABBATICAL is an enjoyable, light read that delves into the question of what holds a marriage together. Part of it, if we believe Nicole and Jason, is a solid base of many years of working together to maintain a family. But there are other important aspects, such as mutual respect, affection and love. When those are present in a relationship, even a year apart won't break those bonds.

Reviewed by Pamela Kramer on April 20, 2024

The Marriage Sabbatical
by Lian Dolan

  • Publication Date: April 2, 2024
  • Genres: Fiction, Women's Fiction
  • Hardcover: 288 pages
  • Publisher: William Morrow
  • ISBN-10: 0063270617
  • ISBN-13: 9780063270619