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The Good Guy: A deeply compelling novel about love and marriage set in 1960s suburban America

The Good Guy: A deeply compelling novel about love and marriage set in 1960s suburban America by Susan Beale

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By Susan Beale

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4 reviews

A brilliant first novel about love, marriage and self-deception


10 Aug 2016


It was agreed that we all felt we knew the characters due to the descriptions of their personalities.
The storyline flowed very well, with realistic events.
Ted - shallow and self serving and Penny at his fee, desperate to be with him at all costs.
We chuckled at Abigail's efforts to be a good wife and fit in with her neighbours.
As part of the 60's generation many in the group could relate to the issues raised.
It made us realise how far society has moved on in the last 60 years.
Good story and an excellent read which flows along nicely.

04 Aug 2016

Books in the Afternoon group reviews;

S) I found this novel easy and quick to read. Very good portrayal of the times as they were in 1960s New England suburbia, or indeed in many parts of a changing world at that time.

As a product of more modern times I found Ted a very irritating and totally set in his ways character, both in his thinking and way of leading his life. How he managed to justify his relationship with Penny and how he treated her was astounding but she equally went along with the myth and it took her a long time to wake up to what was happening. She had my sympathy at the end of the day in having to give up her child. However, her mother did support her which was progressive for the era! I only hope the events of the prologue took a good turn.

Abigail seems to have been the 'rebel WITH a cause' in this story and realising the suburban life was not for her she forged ahead, leaving poor bewildered Ted far behind. The need for impressing the boss, having a colour television or better flashier car seemed to rule his thinking. He took too much time to realise he was just being played by these people he seemed to look up to so much.

As I say a very good feel of the times but boy am I glad things have changed!

M) As a first novel what a brilliant attempt. I don't feel in any position to criticise anything.

I did enjoy the novel. Ted turns out to be the rat that he is, seems to think he can carry on as though it is his right to do so, no thought given to Abigail or Penny, although he claims to love his wife. Abigail is tempted to cheat on Ted but realises what a fool she has been and sees the professor for what he is.

I have to say the ending wasn't what I was expecting. Ted has obviously sunk to the depths, driving off into the moonlight never to be seen again! I did wonder if Abigail was aware in the end of how Ted really was. I actually felt sorry for him in the end. He thought he was going places but in fact had been stitched up. Most of the outcome was his own fault but he failed to see this.

All in all, I enjoyed this book.

A) I really enjoyed this book.

It was set in the small town suburbia of America in the early 1960s and reminded me of TV programmes of that era. Ted and Abigail are a young married couple with a small daughter and they are living in their neat starter home and acquiring the consumer goods which had not been available to previous generations.

However, in spite of the surface comfort, the lives of the main characters are not so comfortable or content. Ted and Abigail are childhood sweethearts and seemed to fall into marriage as 'the next thing to do'. Yet their views of what are important in life are mismatched. Ted would like to be acknowledged (particularly by Abigail) for being a rising star in the business he is in, while Abigail is a natural academic who values learning and is struggling with the role of housewife and mother and does not fit in in with the social circle in which she finds herself.

Ted sees himself as the 'Good Guy', providing his family with his idea of the 'American dream' and never would see himself as someone who would harm his family. However he meets Penny and sees her as everything Abigail is not and enjoys the fact Penny reinforces his belief in himself. He constructs an identity and history he would like to be his. This falls apart after Penny gives birth and has the child adopted. Teds false history eventually collapses when Abigail finds out about the affair and Penny discovers the truth about Ted.

At the end of the book, Ted is left in a job he is unable to make a real success of, while Abigail has risen to become a lawyer and Penny has married someone else. Ted is now the one who has lost his self-esteem - he is no longer providing the dream.

Overall the book seems to be an illustration of social change in the 1960s and 1970s. It shows how the role of men and women changed during this period - women moving into the workplace and the inequality of sexual freedom. Ted's situation at the end of the book shows the possible repercussions of those changing roles within society.

B) Set in 1960s suburban USA, far from the mythologised, hedonistic, anything goes 'sixties'. Here marriage is the goal from high school 'pre engagements'. Double standards abound, and illegitimacy is never mentioned. Wives should be competent at all things domestic and with no opinions expressed on everything else.

Ted, the eponymous 'good guy' is a high school drop out, impressed by the second rate and tawdry and inspired by the limited horizons of his tyre salesmen colleagues. His wife Abigail, his intellectual superior with a love for history who feels herself a failure in the eyes of the local women's 'culture club'. Her cakes flop and she frets about her maternal skill with daughter Mindy.

Ted's good guy personal is a fantasy, an invention which grows deeper the more he becomes involved with Penny, the girl he meets on a works celebration night. He glamorises his life by resurrecting his younger brother Danny, as an airman stationed in Colorado. The real Danny drowned in school when Ted should have been keeping an eye on him but instead went off with the 'cool kids'. Ted spins tales about his non-existent time in Vietnam and with the CIA. The more enmeshed he becomes in the affair the more the fantasy grows with lie upon further lie. Through to the end, when her baby has heartbreakingly been given up for adoption, Ted tells Penny that she is the love of her life, but now she sees him for what he is 'No Ted...You are', she replies.

Abigail, after recovering from her initial shock at the revelations, becomes a successful lawyer but the reunion flounders as she flourishes and as Mindy begins to resemble her more closely in intelligence. The 'culture club' crumbles as too many of the women now have their own careers.

Ted learns of Penny's wedding to a man whose background resembles that of his fantasy but for real and Ted observes the wedding from a distance. Inevitably, his moral decline continues until he finally heads off West to pursue a life of sleaze.

The novel is well written, the narrative straightforward, enclosed by a prologue and epilogue, detailing the reunion 44 years later between Penny and her daughter. Characterisation is good but the character of Abigail is a little underdeveloped. The setting and atmosphere are very well presented.

05 Jul 2016

Angela Hicken

This novel provoked a range of reactions and individual ratings from as low as 2 up to an almost perfect 4.5. A huge plus was the brilliantly drawn three narrative structure, where the characters of Abigail, Ted and Penny were wonderfully realised and very credible, set against their Massachusetts, early sixties backdrop. It explored marriage, gender roles, material competitiveness and how the mores of the time conflicted with individual desire. Ted was a great talking point, the self- perceived ‘good guy’ of the title, or a deluded man with no personal responsibility. Perhaps Abigail changed the most through the course of the novel, she extracted her own payment from the situation and carved her own future. The opening sequence left little to the imagination in terms of any suspense towards the conclusion which must have been the author’s intention. A few felt that there was a rich story to be told from the point where the novel ended, which might have made a more fascinating story. Overall the novel was a good page turner but some felt a lack of depth or connection. Others found it really compelling. A good book discussion was enjoyed, many personal histories were shared about lives in the 50s and 60s and family secrets unearthed, we felt we had enough family history experiences to form our own similar short story collection! It’s certainly a novel based in fact.

05 Jul 2016

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Our reading group were given copies to review - this is our collective views
The book is set during the 1960's in middle America which I found difficult to engage with - I felt I probably would have found it easier to get into if it was set in England although I did like the character of Abigail.

The book is very well written and flows very well. The period attention to detail is very well reserved although some of the characters seemed a little under developed.

I found it very moving and the open ending very emotional i even shed a tear

I was difficult to get into but i did preserve and i was glad i finished it as it was a easy read and the story improved and developed well once i read further

An interesting story i loved the feel of the 1960's.
I some how did not believe the female characters were well researched and they seemed very naïve even for the 1960's?

It is a different read - quite different from what we have been reading so far this year - so i enjoyed the opportunity to read a nice story

Blackheath reading group

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