Alexandra Marshall

The Court of Common Pleas

<cite>The Court of Common Pleas</cite>
  • Hardcover edition
  • 2001
  • Houghton Mifflin
  • ISBN: 0395967945
  • Paperback edition
  • 2003
  • Mariner Books
  • ISBN: 0618257535
  • eBook edition
  • 2014
  • Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
  • Format(s): Kindle, Nook


At sixty-three, Judge Gregory Brennan is on the brink of retirement. With his youngest daughter headed for college, Gregory envisions traveling abroad, basking in a repose that his demanding career has not allowed, with his wife, Audrey, at his side. But Audrey has other ambitions. At forty-nine, she sees the mythic empty nest as an opportunity to explore her own potential—as a medical student. When Audrey reveals her plans, Gregory is overwhelmed, and he emotionally retreats—causing a rift that neither one of them ever anticipated.

In The Court of Common Pleas the institution of marriage is not unlike the general trial court where Gregory presides. But the ruling in Gregory and Audrey's own case remains to be seen. Can their disparate life plans be mediated, and their differences reconciled? Marshall navigates these many intricacies of contemporary family life with her trademark perceptiveness, wit and sophistication. She offers a nuanced portrait of a marriage in the throes of a midlife crisis, and reveals, with an encompassing kindness, the tenderness, frustration, bewilderment, and ultimately the joy of a marriage willed to endure.


"In this finely mapped novel, Alexandra Marshall tracks the twists and turns taken by [Audrey and Gregory Brennan] when they confront unexpected tragedy and opportunity. With its graceful, frequent changes in point of view, the book possesses unusual integrity; all the well-drawn characters have their say, and the resulting story resists easy labeling. The Court of Common Pleas is a precise travelogue through territory that's notoriously difficult to chart—the ways intelligent people navigate life's unexpected detours and draw on their shared history to make sense of it all." — Kimberly B. Marlowe, The New York Times Book Review

"In The Court of Common Pleas the novelist Alexandra Marshall gives us a sensitive portrait of a contented marriage suddenly in crisis as, without warning, a husband and wife—both mature, reasonable, loving people who have walked through life side by side—realize that they have arrived in different places. ...With tact and sympathy tempering her authorial tough-mindedness, Marshall creates a cast of realistically flawed characters caught up in a realistically ambiguous story. Our last glimpse of the Brennans is at a moment of carefully negotiated equilibrium, not to be confused with the pat happy ending a less honest novelist would have tossed our way after making us care so much about these people." — Amanda Heller, The Boston Globe

"With an unusual writing style that darts in and out of her characters' private thoughts like a shuttle in the hands of a master weaver, Alexandra Marshall has written a fine and moving narrative of a good marriage about to unravel in the throes of a midlife crisis. The Court of Common Pleas is a novel of unusual warmth and humanity." — Anita Shreve

"Once again, Alexandra Marshall practices her specialty—the diagnosis of contemporary marriage—and she makes us care about this husband and wife, and about their problem that serves as a lens through which we see how to unravel, not cut, the knottedness of middle-aged love. The wisdom here is useful, the prose is lithe, and the story is irresistible." — Frederick Busch

"The Court of Common Pleas is a vivid dispatch from the guerilla war called marriage, the combat zone where the outcome is ever in doubt. A fine, vibrant novel." — Ward Just