At dental school. Dave pursued Dana, the amazing and only woman in his class. Now married, they share a high quality private practice and raise their three little girls: Lizzie, Stephanie, and Leah. The ordinary chaos in the office and home of a professional couple is constant, though not insurmountable, and they enjoy the dental dramas of their patients, the childrens’ distinctive personalities, and the challenges of parenting. For example, two year-old Leah suddenly decides Dave is the centre of her universe, she shrieks when her previous favorite, Dana, comes near. The parents handle it together calmly without jealousy.

But Dave notices his beautiful, moody wife is drifting away; more precisely, he thinks she is having an affair. To keep this fear out of the realm of reality and confrontation, he scrupulously directs all talk toward work and kids, until his life is bent around avoiding any serious conversation with her at all. The children are anxious. He grieves for the losses of little things in their shared lives.

But when the family is felled by flu, all other problems recede. In rapid succession, children and parents collapse with fever, chills, and misery. Dave is up several nights with Leah, then he is sick himself just as Stephanie and Dana fall even more seriously ill. Drunk with fatigue and terrified that Stephanie might die, he takes her to hospital. They all recover, and the world seems harmonious. Dave begins to think he had imagined his wife’s distraction until he is jolted back to his worry when Dana vanishes.


A keenly observed account of the daily life of a professional couple from the perspective of the husband, who is a devoted father and a caring life-and-work partner. Dave is still attracted by Dana for her intellect, beauty, and verve—but he seems to be equally intimidated by her and for the same reasons. He cannot really fathom why she is with him; therefore, he assumes that she will want to leave. His failure to address the issue is intended to preserve and protect the present, but it may actually be driving her away.

The portraits of the children are deft sketches that reveal clearly and credibly the love, irritations, and frustrations of a young family. They also describe the frightening power in parent-child connections. Families suffer together and prevail: “We have had flu before,” Dave and Dana tell each other. Some passages take on the stereotypes of dentistry and dentists with frankness and humour. Teeth prove to be surprisingly good as metaphorical nuggets of resilience.

At the end, after the harmonious recovery, Dana unaccountably cancels her bookings and disappears. When Dave finally sees her again, he reveals his suspicions with the hope that they are illusory. He asks if she is leaving or staying. She replies. But revealing her answer here would spoil the subtle suspense that strangely pervades this tale of ordinary existence crafted by a master writer.


First published in the Quarterly, vol. 1, Spring 1987. First published in book form 1987, by Alfred A. Knopf.

Primary Source

The Age of Grief


HarperCollins: Flamingo

Place Published




Page Count