Victor Aaron shouldn’t have been surprised to find the index cards written in his wife Sara’s hand, appraising their marriage of 33 years. He had, after all, attended couple’s counseling with her. But he was stunned to read Sara’s recollections of their marriage, so different from his own, and discovered only after her accidental death.

Whose marriage was it, anyway?

That’s the set-up for “You Lost Me There” by Rosecrans Baldwin. In this ambitious first novel set in Maine, Baldwin explores the interior landscape of a marriage, the slights and doubts that go unnamed, and the disparate ways that spouses perceive and recall the same events.

Sara and Victor were opposites — she, the colorful, creative screenwriter; he, the rigid, exacting scientist. Over a span of three decades together, their misaligned career triumphs took a toll. Victor, a top Alzheimer’s researcher at Bar Harbor’s Soborg Institute, became consumed by grants, fundraising and PowerPoint presentations.

“Victor listens to neurons, not people,” Sara wrote on a note card. “Right at the moment when anyone else would vent normal human frustration, Victor shuts down.”

Sara, meanwhile, penned “The Hook-Up,” a surprise hit film that launched her career and paid for their dream house and cars. Until then, Victor had collaborated in her work, marking up scripts and editing dialogue. Now, when Sara wanted to share the spoils of success, Victor would hole up in his lab.

“The more successful I became, the less Victor liked it,” she wrote. “Victor won’t admit my success has driven him away but I’m tired of trying to draw it out of him.”

What gnaws at the newly widowed Victor is not so much the episodes Sara retells as their divergence from his own account. In her notes, Sara depicts their first evening together, the secrets they shared, the movie they saw. For his part, though, Victor didn’t recall having gone to a movie, and could hardly summon the evening at all.

The book is a virtual compendium of such contrasts. Baldwin doesn’t take sides with his characters, but demonstrates how two people, through differing mindsets and circuitry, can part ways in their renditions of the facts. Moreover, he taps Victor’s authority as a brain scientist to posit some intriguing ideas.

“(Sara) was always her own favorite subject, and we by proxy,” Victor says, “but all of that subsequent retrieval, telling the story one more time, had reinforced the synapses for both of us, molding our recall, our marriage.”

Indeed, he wonders whether Sara may have been the neurological source for many of his own memories.

The novel moves back and forth in time, as Victor reads more of the index cards and muddles solo through his daily life. Once a model of discipline, the 58-year-old Victor becomes a parody of middle-aged angst, behaving badly on all fronts. He’s now dating a 20-something researcher at the institute, Regina, a devotee of burlesque, whose edginess only confirms how clueless and absurd Victor has become. That he’s often on the cusp of tears proves symptomatic of a larger problem — his inability to mourn the death of his wife and marriage.

While this is foremost a novel of ideas, Baldwin also delivers a host of vivid characters. It’s hard not to notice that Baldwin’s men are variously jerks, albeit well-etched in their dissolute and drunken tendencies. Victor is the exception, his antics fueled by his recent loss. Yet Victor also plays the foil to several pitch-perfect women, among them the willful, 86-year-old Aunt Betsy, and Cornelia, Victor’s earnest 22-year-old vegan goddaughter. These two, especially, add comic twists and turns to the story.

“Seriously, you are, like, way tense,” Cornelia tells Victor.

Baldwin has managed to take big themes — the notion of a couple’s shared history and the skewed, fickle nature of memory — and cast them into a funny, sad, insightful narrative. 

Joan Silverman writes op-eds, essays and book reviews for numerous publications.