Pickle's Progress
Marcia Butler

Marcia Butler’s debut novel, Pickle’s Progress, is a fierce, mordant New York story about the twisted path to love.

Over the course of five weeks, identical twin brothers, one wife, a dog, and a bereaved young woman collide with each other to comical and sometimes horrifying effect. Everything is questioned and tested as they jockey for position and try to maintain the status quo. Love is the poison, the antidote, the devil and, ultimately, the hero.


“Oh, what a pickle Pickle's Progress puts us in--a duke's mixture of villainy, deceit, betrayal, and, Lord help us, romantic love--all of it rendered in prose as trenchant as it is supple. Clearly, Ms. Butler is in thrall to these fascinatingly flawed characters, and by, oh, page 15 you will be, too.  Let's hope this is just the first of many more necessary novels to come." — Lee K. Abbott, Author of All Things, All at Once

“The four main characters in Pickle’s Progress seem more alive than most of the people we know in real life because their fears and desires are so nakedly exposed. That’s because their creator, Marcia Butler, possesses truly scary X-ray vision and intelligence to match.” — Richard Russo

"How does healing happen? Sometimes in quirkier ways than you might expect. Butler’s blazingly original novel debut (her memoir, The Skin Above My Knee made me want to run away and join an orchestra) is a quintessential moving, witty, New York City story about the love we think we want, the love we get, and the love we deserve, all played out with symphonic grace. I loved it." — Caroline Leavitt, New York Times Bestselling author of Pictures of You and Cruel Beautiful World 

"Marcia Butler’s debut novel, “Pickle’s Progress” is a fierce and glorious NY story. Written in brave and startling prose, Butler has written a fast-paced tale of identical twin brothers and the women in their orbit, who collide and dance in a haunting tale of tragedy, passion and love. Throughout this surprising work, we see NY in all its beauty and raunchiness, with a finely tuned soundtrack, so that the city itself becomes an integral part of the complex and compelling plot. Rare is the brilliant memoirist who also writes fiction with the same sure hand, but Marcia Butler is such an author.” — Patty Dann, author of the bestselling novel, Mermaids

“Pickle’s Progress is a wild trip into the heart of New York City with wonderful, complicated, highly functioning alcoholics as tour guides. Marcia Butler’s characters are reflections of the city they live in: beautiful but flawed, rich but messed up, dark and hostile - but there’s love there, if you know where to find it. Butler’s sharp, artistic sensibilities shine through here, and the result is a brutal, funny story of family, regret, and belonging.” — Amy Poeppel, author of Limelight

“Like the first icy slug of a top-shelf martini, Marcia Butler’s debut novel is a refreshing jolt to the senses. Invigorating, sly and mordantly funny, Pickle’s Progress offers a comic look at the foibles of human nature and all the ways love can seduce, betray and, ultimately, sustain us.” — Jillian Medoff, bestselling author of This Could Hurt

“Marcia Butler's debut novel, Pickle’s Progress, is funny, sharp, totally original, and completely engrossing. It joins the pantheon of great New York novels. I loved every page.” — Julie Klam


Twenty bridges connect the island of Manhattan to the rest of the world. Only one spans westward over the Hudson River and spills onto the lip of America’s heartland. Each year more than one hundred million vehicles make their way onto eight lanes on the upper level and six lanes on the lower level of the George Washington Bridge; travelling back and forth, surely in the name of a dollar, perhaps for some manner of love, maybe just for the view. And if cars and trucks aren’t enough, walkers, runners, cyclists, skateboarders, birdwatchers and jumpers alike can also enjoy the scenery from the pathway known as the ‘South Sidewalk.’

The eastbound on-ramp from Leonia, New Jersey offers a surprisingly short approach. Suddenly, as if from thin air, steel cables loom above, swinging like silver-spun jump ropes playing double-dutch over the cars. Massive and audacious, the bent cords ascend and seem to evaporate into a vaulted sky. On a misty night, the terra cotta buildings to the east, in Manhattan, appear as boxy smears of potter’s clay, notched out with squares of glass, reflecting an occasional headlight hitting the mark. Whether a reveler returning from a late-night party, or a sleepy trucker clocking a twelve-hour overtime shift, the George Washington Bridge suspends many disparate lives during the early hours of a Sunday morning.

Karen and Stan McArdle pulled onto the George Washington Bridge, headed toward the Upper West Side of Manhattan. It was just after three a.m. and they were cranky, probably because they were drunk. They’d stayed at the dinner party far too long and Karen had a few more cocktails than she’d needed, placing herself in that vulnerable corner where Stan could prick her with his epee of marital righteousness. That’s just how their relationship felt—sharp and sometimes dangerous; yet strangely alive as they explored those moments when one or the other might lunge forward and twist that bright, cold metal a tad, then deftly retract the sword. The trick was to know how far to penetrate the dagger and for how long it should linger, but not bleed out the heart.

The urban élan of Manhattan still appealed to Karen and Stan while most of their friends had left years before, joining the ranks of “Leonia-Teaneck-Hackensack-Weehawken-Hoboken” converts. For a long time, Saturday night yuppie dinners had been the way they’d all managed to stay in touch. Recently though, the gatherings had felt more like a gloomy obligation. Their friends, now annoyingly sober, continued to pop out one indulged and irritating child after another. This was not a lifestyle trend Karen and Stan subscribed to.

Some might have considered them to be ‘working’ alcoholics, though Karen preferred the term ‘highly functional’—certainly a few notches up from the category known as ‘pre-Twelve Stepper’. At least, that’s what she liked to believe. Labels didn’t matter at this moment though, because Karen and Stan itched and scratched as they approached the bridge and that inevitable descent down a mountain of alcohol into a gully called ‘hangover’.