A Novelistic Portrait of a Couple United by Love, Pain, Intimacy, Anger, and Transcendence

Fiction - Literary
300 Pages
Reviewed on 06/16/2023
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    Book Review

Reviewed by K.C. Finn for Readers' Favorite

Coupling is a work of fiction in the short story anthology, interpersonal drama, and slice-of-life subgenres. Self-described as “a novelistic portrait of a couple united by love, pain, intimacy, anger, and transcendence,” the work is best suited to the general adult reading audience for some moderate sexual references and occasional strong language. Penned by author William Justice Bruehl, the work explores the life of couple Mark and Marian Elman. As the pair faces different challenges at different stages of their lives, their mutual love and desire to understand and support one another stand the test of time, even in the face of outside influences and inner turmoil.

Author William Justice Bruehl has captured the true spirit of human relationships and emotions in this fascinating read. I loved the episodic nature of the storytelling, arriving in vignettes rather than trying to tell a whole epic at once, and there’s plenty to give readers a strong, poignant sense of each person as an individual but also their bond together. The shifting perspective is a strong narrative talent of the author, and this allows us to see intimate struggles from both sides of the partnership and the different but ultimately complementary ways that Mark and Marian work together to overcome anything and everything in their path. Though the work is never idealized, it is inherently romantic because of the strength of the bond and the beautiful lexis of terms that Bruehl uses to craft the atmosphere. Overall, Coupling is a highly recommended read for fans of realistic romantic drama and poignant observations on life.

Edith Wairimu

Coupling by William Justice Bruehl is a compelling literary work that captures moments in a couple’s life. Mark Elman is a professor at the College of Criminal Studies while his wife Marian is a therapist. The couple live on the North Shore of Long Island and have no children by choice. This account captures the couple’s steadfast love and how it is demonstrated in their everyday life. It includes conflicts between the couple and how these are mutually resolved, which further shows their commitment to each other. It also includes their community and friends and how they build relationships with those they encounter. Their marriage is flawed but also authentic and enduring.

William Justice Bruehl has managed to craft complex, unique characters with familiar struggles that couples can relate to. It captures their emotions of anger, frustration, joy, love, and happiness with skill and precision. Organized in the form of an anthology that includes specific snippets from the couple’s life, the work flows beautifully and in the end, I understood Marian and Mark and their beautiful relationship. Other characters introduced in the short stories are equally captivating. The work paints an endearing image of the couple’s deep and lasting love that thrives despite the differences and challenges that they face. A heartwarming collection of short stories about a couple’s intimate relationship, Coupling is a wonderful read with multifaceted, lifelike role players.

Asher Syed

Step into the world of Mark and Marian Elman, the couple at the heart of William Justice Bruehl's collection of short stories. Coupling is an exploration of the married life of two educated professionals without children in Long Island. Even though the characters remain the same, the stories are standalones with the benefit of us getting to know Mark and Marian as we read in any order a reader might like. Mark and Marian forge their own unique path together and while they do not have kids, they find fulfillment in the people in their lives and each other. Their bond is tested, but they tackle each challenge with love, patience, and unwavering understanding and dedication to one another. Bruehl tells us that some of these stories are based on his own life and marriage, a confession that makes the fictional collection feel more personal.

Using a combination of intelligent wit, lighthearted banter, frustrating misunderstandings and poor communication, and one or six gut-wrenching scenes, William Justice Bruehl lifts the veil on matrimony in Coupling. The standout story to me was Identicals and while I prefer not to explain why, I had a cheeky chuckle when Mark unceremoniously advises his wife that his twin brother has not "passed" with, “We pass windows, homes, trucks on the road. Matt is dead. He died.” This lightens the mood of a heavy underlying issue of voluntary estrangement from an immediate family member. The ability to turn an excruciatingly difficult situation into a story a few pages long takes real skill. Coupling has some crossover of character, and character names, interchangeable between housekeepers, therapy clients, and pups. Bruehl's literary style takes getting used to but once comfortable, it is full steam ahead, and I enjoyed the ride.

Rabia Tanveer

Coupling: A Novelistic Portrait of a Couple United by Love, Pain, Intimacy, Anger, and Transcendence by William Justice Bruehl focuses on the woes and trials of a couple as they navigate the turbulent waters of marriage. Essentially a collection of 16 short stories, Coupling focuses on the marital and personal lives of Mark and Marian, who live a comfortable life on Long Island. Mark was a criminal studies professor, and Marian was a therapist. Each of these 16 stories shows a different side of their marriage. From intimacy to love to anger, author William Justice Bruehl shows various facets of marriage and how a couple compromises, supports, and understands each other to make things work.

I loved Mark and Marian. The author gave us a front-row seat to their interactions, their adoration for each other, and how they supported each other while they battled their issues. Each story was like a perfect slice of life where the readers saw different sides of these characters. “Wildings” set the collection’s tone and announced the couple’s dynamic. However, there were specific stories that quickly became my favorite. “The Baby Contract,” “Identicals,” and “A Silent Night” were my favorites. Marian may come across as a bit bossy, but that perspective changes. Mark and Marian took the leading role as per the need of the other. “It Takes a Woman” was the perfect example of that. The narrative looked at a relationship’s personal, most private aspects and revealed how a loving marriage worked. I loved how different emotions were revealed and how each character embraced them. Author William Justice Bruehl did something magical with Coupling, and I highly recommend it.

Jamie Michele

Coupling by William Justice Bruehl is a collection of sixteen original stories revolving around the relationship of a Long Island couple named Mark and Marian Elman. Each piece is written as a vignette and outside of the construct of chronology, so they read independently of one another. The range in length, tone, and tenor, from the struggle of Marian's childless by-choice stance and the internal conflict she faces, compounded by a feeling that she's indebted to Mark for his commitment to her when presented with a positive pregnancy test in The Baby Contract; to Mark feeling helpless when Marian is physically and emotionally distressed but refuses to seek medical treatment, capturing the challenges of communication and support within a relationship in Shadowed By Fear.

I love it when I come across a book that takes a thoughtful and completely transparent approach to what a relationship is really like once the front door is closed and the couple is as they are most of their lives. Coupling by William Justice Bruehl does not shy away from the less pleasant aspects of Mark and Marian's marriage, and in doing this reflects the highs and lows of their choice to be together through a hyper-realistic lens. The writing itself is polished and well done, and the vignettes are short enough for quick consumption but still have the length to provide a fully engrossing experience. I found myself conflicted in whether or not I actually liked Mark and Marian, particularly with their descriptions of people of color and things like using food to describe the shade of a Black man's skin and repeating what an Asian woman said in Chinese pidgin English, but these do serve a purpose in making their privilege as affluent Long Islanders an authentic part of their identities. Overall, Bruehl offers up a wonderful collection in a format that packs a big punch in bite-sized stories.