Worth by Jon Canter
(Random House, 2011, 279 pages)
Jon Canter writes funny, insightful novels. Worth tells the story of Richard and Sarah, a couple who meet and marry in London. They soon decide to simplify their lives and move to the country. Adjusting to life in the Suffolk village of Worth proves difficult until Catherine moves into the cottage next door. She is the perfect neighbor – kind, considerate, intelligent, and fun. However, as the friendship between the three deepens, complications arise. No matter how far from the crowded city Richard and Sarah get, the difficulties of relating to and living with other people cannot be escaped.
Canter seems to enjoy writing about intelligent but under-achieving male characters. In his first novel, Seeds of Greatness, it was David, the Cambridge educated bookstore clerk. In Worth, Richard is an aspiring but as yet unsuccessful illustrator who seems to be content to cede control of his life to the driven and ambitious women that surround him. The book sees Richard attempting to correct this dynamic with Sarah, and it provides lots of humorous and observant passages about how a couple can share a life without eclipsing one another. There is also some pretty funny material about the pitfalls faced by a married man attempting to navigate a friendship with a woman who is also close to his wife. It seems that Richard and Sarah’s relationship is defined almost as much by how they relate to their mutual friends as it is by how they relate to each other.
I enjoyed this book a lot, though I found the final chapters a bit anti-climactic. In some ways, this probably makes it a story that is true to everyday realities. Some exciting and dramatic things happen, but these events tend to get absorbed in the more mundane and determinative events and decisions of life. On the whole, really enjoyable.