In Sea Wife, the author and her husband leave everything behind to live on a boat with their two small children. She knows nothing about sailing, but the debris of her unfinished dissertation on poetry (and its attendant depression) make it relatively easy to go with the flow and set up house on a smallish boat. There, she discovers the drudgery of small-quarter living, the pressures on marriage and motherhood of being together all the time, and some of the delights of sailing, at least until it gets very, very dark.
Don’t be fooled by the apparent escapism of the first few chapters, it gets very deep into marriage challenges and life challenges.
A Virtuous Woman is Ruby Stokes, who ran off very unwisely from her comfortable home as a teenager, only to be promptly abandoned by her flashy lover. She eventually marries a decidedly unglamorous tenant farmer and finds quiet contentment, in a life enmeshed with that of the owners of the farm. It’s a quiet, sweet, optimistic story.
Idaho stars the wife of an early-onset Alzheimer patient, who tries to untangle her husband’s past, now that he can no longer remember what happened to his first wife and daughters. The tale is hazy and disconnected, as surely his mind must be by the time the story starts, but also kind and loving, despite what we know from the start must be a very dark story. The magnificent Idaho mountains are an added pleasure to the complex tale.
In Late in the Day, a man dies and his wife and their best friends lose their minds (I say, uncharitably). The story alternates between the current days of grief and the past history of the four, a tad complicated and entangled, with foreshadowing of the current and fatal entanglement. I grew bored of the foursome’s banal lives–but not without admiring the apt observations and engaging style of the author.
Jonathan Santlofer’s wife died suddenly and unexpectedly after what was supposed to be routine surgery — and to this day he has never received a precise accounting of what happened. The memoir describes his grief, the solace of his work, the minutiae of after-death, and his entire marriage.
Sad but absolutely not depressing, and with a lovely description of his relationship with his daughter.
The woman and man that stars in One Part Woman are perfectly happy, but their lack of children makes them a target for jokes, deep concern from their parents, and harassment, from friends and enemies alike. So they dutifully trudge to temples and festivals, trying to get the pregnancy that will deliver them from the stigma of childlessness.
I enjoyed the first 100 pages or so, as the couple endures humiliations and taunts despite being quite satisfied with their marriage themselves. And then, the story seems to repeat itself over and over again until the end. Too bad, the beginning had quite a pleasant mix of exoticism, marriage wisdom, and social constraints.
Alternate Side is not as silly as The Awkward Age because it’s filled with small asides of well observed details. For instance, the heroine has a new (male) temp who gives her a perfect heads-up on a panicked call from her daughter, which causes her to ask whether he has sisters. Yes, we would ask that same question! But the petty dramas of a privileged New York cul-de-sac seemed, to me at least, to be petty and predictable.
A 19-year old meets a woman his mother’s age and they fall in love. They get kicked out of the tennis club. She leaves her husband. It won’t end well, but it will take decades (and lots and lots of drinking!) to get there. The Only Story takes us through the entire cycle and describes, in details and with wonderful irony, the horrified reactions of everyone around them and the awkward adjustments they have to make. The story is sad, of course, but also full of hilarious embarrassing moments.
Feast Days stars the wife of a young, ambitious American banker who has been dispatched to Sao Paulo. She is jobless, adrift, and curious about the country she just landed in. She tries her luck as an English tutor and experiences the ambitious status of that position. She goes to protests. She travels. And she reminisces about her husband’s and her courtship, which contrasts badly with the unravelling state of their marriage. The race and tone seem to unravel by the end of this (short) novel but the first two thirds are brilliantly captured.
The Heart Is a Shifting Sea: Love and Marriage in Mumbai collects the stories of three Mumbai couples, from courtship to about a decade into their marriages. They have different religions and ages, and all middle class. And they struggle, with affairs and stepfamilies, and general unease at having married someone they no longer recognize. I suppose one could enjoy the voyeur’s view of these couples’ lives. I found the stories mostly dull.