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Andrew Sean Greer’s third novel, The Story of a Marriage, opens with so simple a variation on the stranger-comes-to-town plot that it’s initially difficult to see how its 190-odd pages will get filled. Set in 1953 in San Francisco’s Sunset District—a sleepy, fogbound neighborhood hugging the Pacific—the novel is narrated by Pearlie Cook, who’s settled comfortably with her husband, Holland, and their young son, Sonny. Following some heavy rhetorical foreboding, one Buzz Drumer arrives to shatter this just-so existence: He and Holland were lovers during World War II, he tells her, and the two intend to abandon her and start a new life together. This is where the plot gets going, but like a lyrical chamber piece rich with counterpoint, The Story of a Marriage follows multiple threads, dotted with observations of a more complicated ’50s—Greer weaves in the Rosenbergs, military testing on conscientious objectors, institutionalized racism, and the era’s culture-wide denial of emotions. Greer is prone to occasional leaden metaphor (Sonny is “the antidote to my husband’s heart”) and overstatement (“what binds one human to another is pain”). But the gauziness of Greer’s prose always feels purposeful; Pearlie, he makes clear, is slowly learning to emerge from her own fog. This is the slim-yet-deep novel that Don DeLillo has been struggling to write for ten years now: Greer, like DeLillo, is determined to say something about lost souls and the American condition, but instead of DeLillo’s sleek, well-machined characters Greer is eager to explore our messier, more irrational selves. Greer discusses and signs copies of his work at 7 p.m. Thursday, June 5, at Politics and Prose, 5015 Connecticut Ave. NW. Free. (202) 364-1919.