Tag Archives: marriage

*** The Only Story by Julian Barnes

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.

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** Feast Days by Ian MacKenzie

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.

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* The Heart is a Shifting Sea by Elizabeth Flock

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.

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** An American Marriage by Tayari Jones

An American Marriage stars an African-American couple whose husband unjustly (and incomprehensibly) is sent to prison for a crime he did not commit. The story takes us back to the beginning of their relationship into the future, when he is eventually released. And it’s a story that will make you want to turn the pages, at least until the release where it gets all strange and “off”, at least to my taste. The complicated decisions and feelings of those two are wonderfully described.

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** Straying by Molly McCloskey

The young bride in Straying has an affair, and describes it in beautiful prose and masterful time shifts — both of which contrast sharply with the lack of rational decision to engage in it, or even stay in it. Perhaps she married too swiftly, or just needs to grow up a bit?

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* A Separation by Katie Kitamura

Not exactly a Valentine Day story, A Separation stars a wife in a marriage that’s already failed — except that the husband’s parents have not been told. When the husband disappears on a solitary trip to Greece, she is asked by her mother in law to investigate and travels there to uncover the sad truth. There’s very little action in the book, mostly reflections on herself, the marriage, and inspired observations of the locals and her in-laws. If you like slow-moving, introspective literature, this one’s for you.

I did enjoy some of the insightful rumination about the various characters, whether the tightly controlled father in law or the receptionist who perhaps, definitely, had an affair with her husband, But navel gazing is not my thing

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** The State of Affairs by Esther Perel

Esther Perel claims that affairs can have positive consequences, but judging from the many dozens of stories of intense pain, destruction, and resentment contained in The State of Affairs: Rethinking Infidelity (stories contrasted with only a handful of positive ones), it seems that infidelity continues to be a very bad idea. The strength of the book seems to be more in the willingness to take an honest look at the taboo, and explore the mindset of both affair participants and victims almost clinically, without judgment or preconceptions.

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** The All-or-Nothing Marriage by Eli Finkel

Eli Finkel is married, mostly happily it seems, he is a psychology professor, and he also appears to be a big nerd. His book, The All-or-Nothing Marriage: How the Best Marriages Work, rests on the interesting premise that modern mores may load too much on marriage, namely that expecting our spouses to be companions, lovers, best friends, co-parents, and also boosters of our self-growth may simply be unrealistic. I’m tempted to agree.

That said the book starts by quoting Eat, Pray, Love (yikes), uses charts that any academic should be ashamed of (with more non-zero scales than Tufte himself can shake a stick at), relates experiments that are so specific that I doubt they show anything significant about anyone’s marriage, dips all too frequently into self-help silliness (although he makes some interesting reframing suggestions to avoid reflexive blaming), and relies heavily on the Maslow pyramid of nonsense (double yikes!)

But that one idea, yes, is quite useful!

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*** My Lovely Wife in the Psych Yard by Mark Lukach

My Lovely Wife in the Psych in the Psych Yard is the memoir of a man whose wife had several episodes of severe breakdowns, each involving lengthy hospitalizations, uncertain prognoses, and tremendous burdens on him as he tried to care for her and their son. It’s a weighty subject matter, and the author does not avoid the horrors of mental illness, the weaknesses of the psychiatric medical system, or the hardships on caregivers. He gives us an honest recounting of a very hard time, and we can only admire his pluck, and his wife’s.

 

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*** Standard Deviation by Katherine Heiny

The hero and narrator of Standard Deviation is the mildly confused husband of a pure extrovert, once married to a very contained professional woman, and parent of a middle-schooler with Asperger’s. The novel tells of the family’s adventures as the bubbly mother invites various friends and strangers to be their guests for lengthy stays, gets her son into a mysterious origami club, befriends the ex-wife, and has various marriage-damaging adventures. All the while, the husband observes, and worries (and cooks!). There are some hilarious passages, including a stay at an origami convention and various private school charity functions, but the general tone is more subdued and focused on how surprising spouses can appear to each other, years into a marriage.

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