A Tale of Midlife Love With a Bombshell Ending

LEAVING, by Roxana Robinson

Every love story needs an obstacle, someone or something that threatens to keep the lovers apart. What obstacles are suitable for a contemporary American love story? The writer of such a story may wish to avoid the over-communication, the tolerance (real or performed) and the jadedness that dispel romantic tension. Can lovers still be “star-crossed,” doomed from the start to labor under a “malign star”?

They can, says Roxana Robinson, in her elegant love story “Leaving.” (Robinson is the author of nine previous works of fiction, as well as a biography of Georgia O’Keeffe.)

Warren and Sarah, two 60-year-olds who were a couple in their youth, cross paths at performance of “Tosca.” Years ago, Sarah had contemplated marrying Warren, but decided he would be an unwise choice for a mate. The very things that make him charming once he reappears at 60 — his enthusiasms, his intense desire for intimacy — scared the young Sarah, and she put her chips on Rob instead. He turned out to be the wrong choice, and the marriage was a washout. When Warren and Sarah run into each other at the opera, they’ve got unfinished business.

The two live contented lives until this encounter. Warren is married, while Sarah, the parent of two grown children and long divorced from Rob, is wedded to her woodsy home, her solitude and her exceptionally human dog. But as the narrative moves smoothly between the two points of view, we watch them become astonished and changed by each other. The affair that follows is mature, even if it is destructive. Sarah, the product of an intensely upper-crust background, is a restrained woman who speaks in self-edited phrases. We appreciate her meta-knowledge of her position. To a friend who endured her own husband’s affair, Sarah points out, “I’m the other woman.”

We don’t dislike Warren’s wife, Janet, either, but we wouldn’t want to be married to her. She’s on the goofy side, overly literal, and “afraid of people unlike herself.” On the other hand, she doesn’t deserve Warren’s duplicity, as he tries to “execute his marriage without causing pain.”

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