Two Across by Jeff Bartsch

IMG_0197“Fate will never intervene on your behalf.  The universe will not come to your rescue.  You are yours and yours alone to save.  The work is yours to do.”

Recently while browsing bookstore shelves, I came across Two Across by Jeff Bartsch.  The crossword puzzle theme caught my attention and the endearing description had me making it my next read.  It tells the story of Vera and Stanley, two spelling bee champions and their relationship, starting from the time they first meet as teenagers.  They are both very intelligent and had a similar upbringing.  Stanley longs to distance himself from his mother’s plan for his life, and instead make a living as a creator of crossword puzzles.  Vera, on the other hand, is driven by impulse and longs for something to happen.  With a shared desire for independence and freedom they agree to fake a wedding in order to cash in on the gifts, with each taking their share and using it for a new beginning.  However, life is a complicated thing.  The feelings they have for one another and the guilt of their deception follows them, affecting their lives and relationship.

Two Across was not what I expected, but interesting nonetheless.  I went into it expecting a lighthearted, fun story, however it was more on the serious side than I thought it would be.  I didn’t mind this at all and found it to be a layered story that is told very well.  It deals with growing up, longing to be free, the desire for a relationship and connection, and figuring out life as you go along.  Also, escaping the confinement and expectations of family but being imprisoned by the lies used to escape those expectations.  I enjoyed the exploration of these themes and the quiet, slow paced nature of the storytelling.  However, I felt an overall lack of connection to Vera and Stanley and do wish the challenges of their relationship were explored more; What does Vera want?  Where does Stanley stand?  I also had a hard time understanding Vera and her actions, as there was a level of selfishness and general unawareness.  The lack of connection did take me out of the story itself, however there are aspects of this book that work quite well: the depth and emotion of the different topics explored, the lovely writing style, and the uniqueness of the crossword theme throughout.

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