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Marriage: It’s Complicated

Scott O’Connor was born in Syracuse, New York. He is the author of the novella AMONG WOLVES, and the novels, HALF WORLD and UNTOUCHABLE, for which he was awarded the 2011 Barnes & Noble Discover Award for fiction. He lives with his family in Los Angeles. Discover more about Scott and Henry March at and

When my first novel, UNTOUCHABLE, was acquired by Tyrus Books, I’d heard of the publisher but never read one of their titles. In excitement (they’re going to publish my book!) and anxiety (do they publish anything good?), I went to my local bookstore and bought the only Tyrus title on the shelves: Peter Gadol’s SILVER LAKE. By the time I finished reading, I knew I would be honored to have my novel sit alongside this remarkable book. The subtle complexity of the relationship in SILVER LAKE inspired me to dig deeper into the marriage of my own new novel, HALF WORLD. 

Every marriage has its mysteries, its secret histories, its unspoken ambitions and regrets. Even at their most benign, these hidden truths create cracks that can grow and need to be patched if the bond is going to hold. In his beautiful, unsettling sixth novel, SILVER LAKE, Peter Gadol gives us just such a marriage, with all its little everyday fissures, and then adds a seismic shock that turns the relationship inside out, creating a lushly described domestic drama that becomes a page-turning detective story, sending one spouse chasing the other through the shared maze of their relationship.

For almost twenty years, Carlo and Robbie have been lovers, best friends, and partners in a successful architecture firm. They live in the hills above Los Angeles’s Silver Lake Reservoir, a neighborhood of narrow, climbing roads and breathtaking views, a small town within a big town, tolerant, forward-thinking, nurturing both personally and artistically. The two men have reached a point in their lives where they revel in simple comforts, the life they’ve created together. “And then it was autumn again,” Gadol writes in the novel’s quietly virtuosic opening, “and Saturdays they would wake early when the first clean light came up over the oak and fir at the top of the ridge . . . ” He slips us easily into the stream of the couple’s life, the steady world they’ve worked hard to establish.

Carlo is practical, stolid, protective. Robbie is a dreamer, optimistic and trusting. Their differences have served to strengthen their relationship, fostering equality, a sense of give-and-take, but these become liabilities when the men meet Tom, a troubled young man who (in a clever reimagining of a familiar mystery genre setup) walks into the couple’s office, looking for help.

The three men spend a long day together, playing tennis, having dinner, drinking too much, talking too late. Tom is attracted to Carlo and Robbie, their shared life and stability. Carlo and Robbie are attracted to Tom as well. He’s the road neither of them followed, an artist without focus or a sense of responsibility: spontaneous, reckless, promiscuous. At the end of the day, Carlo and Robbie go to bed intact, feeling like they’ve passed a test, having resisted all of the physical and emotional temptations Tom represents. But their relief is short-lived. When they wake the next morning, they find that Tom has committed an unthinkable violent act. Gadol’s novel now becomes a uniquely inspired detective story, with Robbie working to piece together the reasons for Tom’s actions while Carlo tries to stay one step ahead of his husband, attempting to cover up the secret history he and Tom once shared.

The sense of threat in the marriage bleeds out in larger circles as the two men realize that the welcoming community they believed they were part of still views them as outsiders: they’ve been tolerated rather than fully accepted. “Two men together, two against the world,” Gadol writes in an early, triumphant passage. “Astonishing.” But to much of the rest of that world, two married men is not just astonishing but unconventional and unfamiliar. As the news of Tom’s suicide spreads, Carlo and Robbie find themselves suspected and distrusted, adding further stress to their splintering relationship. Familiarity might lend a straight couple the benefit of the doubt, but Gadol steers into more difficult territory: fear of the other, fear of being the other. Two men against the world, for better or worse.

By the end of the novel, the marriage has blown apart, and we come to the book’s greatest crisis: Carlo and Robbie must decide how and if they’ll continue on together. This has been the central question all along. It’s the central question of any marriage, whether two people can overcome their histories, their secrets, and create a life generous and forgiving enough to encompass all of their strengths and secrets. SILVER LAKE addresses this question directly, unflinchingly, never mistaking beauty for truth, but never ignoring the beauty that can be found in trying to solve the mystery.

Silver Lake
Peter Gadol

Robbie and Carlo have been involved professionally and personally for twenty years. Lately, though, their architectural practice and their marraige are beginning to falter. One fall day, Tom Field, a peculiar young man, drifts into their storefront office asking to use the phone. The men get to talking; Tom is curious but enchanting, and Robbie ends up playing tennis with him that afternoon, ultimately inviting him home for dinner. The ensuing evening involves a lot of wine and banter and then increasingly dark conversation, and when the stranger has had too much to drink, the two men insist he sleep in their guest room. During the night, Tom commits an act of violence that shatters the couple's ordered lives—the men are forced to cope with the blossoming doubt and corrosive secrets. Each in his own way, Robbie and Carlo seek to understand the disquiet stemming from their time with Tom.

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Marriage: It’s Complicated

By Scott O'Connor | August 5, 2014


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