ARRANGEMENT IN BLACK AND WHITE follows a woman – an aspiring artist who is fed up with giving priority to her husband’s political career – as her marriage crumbles, with flashbacks to show us what led her to this point. Though the themes and settings are compelling, there are issues with pacing and dialogue that can make for a frustrating reading experience. (The novel is set mostly in the mid-1970s in Connecticut, when Margy is an adult, and sections are set ten years before in Paris and during her childhood in the Midwest.) It is easy to become emotionally invested in this story, and this makes drawn-out, repetitive moments of high intensity exhausting. The dramatic moments come so suddenly that it is often jarring, and characters – particularly Margy and her husband Everet – tend to have the same arguments again and again.
Despite the possibility of feeling burned out, the reader is bound to feel connected to the main character. For much of the book, we can find a way through to Margy despite her consistently maddening, self-destructive decisions. The dialogue could use the same steady hand that was applied to the characterization of the flawed, specific cast, all of whom feel familiar enough to draw the reader in and distant enough that one will be curious to follow them further. When Margy meets the powerful people working to get Everet involved in politics, for example, they are people whose personalities and quirks are pleasingly recognizable, and although they are Margy’s enemies and have little understanding of her goals, even they are not all bad.
The relationship between reader and characters becomes strained, however, as Margy becomes more of an extreme victim/villain and the others largely fail to change their tunes throughout the novel. Margy is so totally battered by the end that a reader may feel guilty for having witnessed what befalls her. There are scenes which will be all too familiar to any woman in which Margy tries to avoid sexual assault by being gracious to her potential attacker, and these demonstrate author Fred Misurella’s empathetic abilities. But when terrible things do happen to Margy, they are presented in such an over-the-top, nearly vulgar way that it can feel unnecessarily disturbing. It is helpful to understand why she is so damaged, but we never really learn who Margy is outside of her trauma, as everything she does seems to be a reaction to it. Though this is done on purpose, it does become tiring to see her so aggressively ruin her own life again and again. In the end, there is some hope, and it may have been more interesting to see this earlier on, and to see more of Margy’s growth.
ARRANGEMENT IN BLACK AND WHITE tells a compelling story that is bogged down by a lack of nuance and rhythm.
~Madeline Dennis-Yates for IndieReader