Couples in Flux

Published in: September-October 2016 issue.


by Jane Eaton Hamilton
Arsenal Pulp Press. 289 pages, $17.95


THE ACTION in Weekend takes place over a mere two days, and it all happens on a small island in Ontario, where a celebratory getaway reveals fracture lines running through the relationships of the participants. The central characters are two lesbian couples who occupy adjacent cabins: Ajax, a black woman, and Logan, a white “boi”; and Joe and Elliott, who have come with their new baby. The novel by Jane Eaton Hamilton is sexy and far-seeing, and it offers many surprises.

This is Hamilton’s ninth book, and she engages the complexity of her subjects with a sure hand. The lakeside setting with its side-by-side cabins is full of glimpses of nature: look out a window and you’re as likely to spot a towhee searching for seeds as you are to observe a couple having sex on the dock. The oppressive heat of the water and the isolation of the island—boats are required to get there, to shop, to seek medical help in an emergency—make the couples’ attractions and divergences feel equally pressurized. The sex is explicit, hot, and complicated by both the gender dynamics at play and the changes wrought by aging.

In the course of the weekend, Joe learns that a former lover who was deeply unstable has died, possibly as the result of suicide. She looks back at the relationship she feels lucky to have escaped intact, but can’t help recalling the good times as well, surrounded as she is by the new reality of parenthood and the ways in which it has redefined her current relationship. Those questions of knowing are woven throughout this story, and never come with pat answers. Even Ajax and Logan’s above-board discussions of power disparities don’t yield a tidy solution. “I promise I’ll bend toward you,” Logan tells her at one point, “but I can’t promise how often I’ll bend toward you.”

It’s surprising to note how much can happen in such a short span of time, though less so when you consider how we can mentally whipsaw between past and present while rifling through our luggage, checking our watches to see if the future will arrive on time. Weekend handles this mental time travel artfully. Hamilton keeps the perspective flexible and shifting, and our sympathies and loyalties can’t help but move and change with the story as more is revealed. By the end much has changed, and there’s a powerful sense of hope about where things stand. We need more stories that celebrate the ways we bend, break, and rebuild ourselves; this is a particularly good one.


Heather Seggel, a frequent contributor to these pages, is a freelance writer based in Northern California.