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#LiteraryWives: The Amateur Marriage

It’s time for Literary Wives, a blogging club that looks at the depiction of wives in fiction!

As always, if you haven’t already please make sure to check out the posts by the other wives and join in the discussion if you’ve read The Amateur Marriage by Anne Tyler! There are definitely spoilers ahead.

Kay @ Whatmeread
Lynn @ Smoke and Mirrors
Naomi @ Consumed By Ink

The Book

On the day in 1941 that Pauline walks into his mother’s grocery store, Michael Anton is smitten. Pauline, in her red coat, is bright, impulsive, exciting. She’s everything he didn’t know he wanted and shortly after, literal hours, he’s agreed to sign up for military service. And so begins the story of the next several decades of their lives, when it turns out that actually they are very ill suited to each other and probably don’t even like each other that much. The book is divided into chapters that kind of function as short stories – each chapter is a different time in their relationship, sometimes it’s told from Pauline or Michael’s experience, sometimes from one of their children.

My Thoughts

amateur marriage

I liked this one more than I thought I would! It did remind me of Wait For Me Jack, that we read last year. While the novel didn’t really go too deeply into the current events of the times, it did use elements of what was happening to shape the story of the marriage. The fervor of the days after Pearl Harbor, the free love of Haight-Ashbury, how immediately the world changed after 9/11; these provide shifts for Pauline and Michael and their family but mostly it’s a novel of dinners, driving, chores, the everyday stuff that makes up a life. 

It’s a quiet novel that I felt burned slowly but did end up bringing some heat. I was surprised by some of the things that happened to the Antons – the disappearance of their eldest child, their divorce, Pauline’s death! I thought maybe they would separate but that they would get back together. Be one of those couples that’s completely miserable but divorce just isn’t on the table. I think Pauline would have lived that way but evidently for Michael, once he saw another way, he took it. 

What does the book say about being a wife?

This is another one that was more about the marriage than about the experience of being a wife. Both husband and wife are given equal weight in the telling of their story, both recognize that they’ve done things wrong and take on some blame for the dissolution of their marriage. Each catalogue their faults but can’t quite help but also rundown the faults of their partner; Michael spends too much at his store, Pauline is too attached to their children, their sex life is cursory. Ultimately, they barely knew each other when they got married and as life piled up and got in the way, they “were more like brother and sister than husband and wife. This constant elbowing and competing, jockeying for position, glorying in I-told-you-so.”

Pauline and Michael would never have married each other if they hadn’t both got caught up in the ‘excitement’ of the war. Each tries to make the best of it – Pauline assumes that everyone is kind of miserable in their marriage, that everyone squabbles all the time and that’s just how marriage is, Michael goes to work and tries to provide a decent life for everyone. But when their daughter goes missing, that’s the beginning of the end for them. They could handle the day to day disappointments, but Lindy’s disappearance shows each the faults of the other rather more explicitly. 

The Amateur Marriage tells the story of a couple who have no idea what they are doing until it’s too late to change anything and then they just keep going, one foot in front of the other.

Be sure to visit the other blogs and get in on the discussion! And come back in September when we’ll discuss The Summer Wives by Beatriz Williams.

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#LiteraryWives: Monogamy

It’s time for Literary Wives, a blogging club that looks at the depiction of wives in fiction!

As always, if you haven’t already please make sure to check out the posts by the other wives and join in the discussion if you’ve read Monogamy by Sue Miller! There are definitely spoilers ahead.

Kay @ Whatmeread
Lynn @ Smoke and Mirrors
Naomi @ Consumed By Ink

The Book

monogamy

Annie and Graham have been mainly happily married for more than 30 years. Annie was briefly married before she met Graham and together they have a daughter. Graham has a son from a previous marriage, a marriage that ended because he cheated on his first wife. Annie is a photographer who is coming back into a productive period of her career, and Graham owns a bookstore, hosting authors and literary events. And then Graham dies suddenly and while grieving the loss of a wonderful husband, Annie finds out that maybe he wasn’t so wonderful after all. Now Annie must come to terms with their marriage, how she feels about her husband now that he’s gone, while protecting his children from what she’s discovered.

My Thoughts

Honestly? I really despise books that are billed as thoughtful, interesting, literary because they have to do with cheating. Oh I could never read another book about a middle aged white man cheating on his wife and be so very happy. I’m not saying I want all the characters I read about to be flawless and be wonderful to each other. But a story about an old guy cheating on his wife after so many years where she’s worked to make him happy (and the wives always sacrifice their careers or something to make the husband’s life easier and better) is so unoriginal. There’s no doubt that Sue Miller is a good writer, I just had a hard time reading this story again. 

Also, all of the characters seemed to have a thing against their mothers which, again, is so tired. Graham talks to his friend about how his mother should have tried harder to keep his dad around (his abusive, alcoholic father), his friend also feels like his mother let him down, Graham’s son, Lucas, can’t stand his mother, feels like she’s the reason he didn’t get the relationship he wanted with his father, even Annie blames her mother for not making more of an effort to ensure that their family was ‘cultured’. When Lucas has a baby with his own wife, a woman he adores, suddenly he sees her as a mother, as a thing that feeds his child, and he’s kind of repulsed and relieved when she leaves to visit her family for a month.

What does the book say about being a wife?

I’m not sure that the book talked about being a wife, as much as it explored marriage. Monogamy explores the idea of a long-term committed relationship but it seems like most of the marriages in this book fall prey to infidelity. At the very beginning, when we meet Annie, she is fresh out of her first marriage and she feels free.

So she was free, at twenty-nine. Which should have made her feel liberated, expansive. And she did, in some ways. Except that for a long while after the divorce, she was uncomfortable around men. For at least a year, maybe longer, she read almost every gesture, every remark, as controlling, as dangerous for her. (p.3)

For this Annie, then, marriage would seem to be a cage. A way for a man to trap her and keep her. In some ways, this does come to pass with Graham. He works at his bookstore, cultivating relationships with interesting people, bringing them to their home for dinner parties (that Annie plans and cooks for allowing Graham to hold court), while Annie pauses her photography career to stay closer to home and care for their child. And all of this is worth it to Annie, until she finds out that Graham has cheated on her. We know that it was not just once with one woman but that this had been a pattern of behaviour throughout their marriage. 

Mostly, Monogamy is 

an old tired story that’s all, the damaged person who can’t be held responsible for the damage he causes. (p. 58)

Be sure to visit the other blogs and get in on the discussion! And come back in September when we’ll discuss The Amateur Marriage by Anne Tyler.

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#LiteraryWives: Every Note Played

It’s time for Literary Wives, a blogging club that looks at the depiction of wives in fiction!

As always, if you haven’t already please make sure to check out the posts by the other wives and join in the discussion if you’ve read Every Note Played by Lisa Genova! There are definitely spoilers ahead.

Kay @ Whatmeread
Lynn @ Smoke and Mirrors
Naomi @ Consumed By Ink

The Book

every note played

Richard is a concert pianist and when he starts having some issues with his hands, he writes it off as tendonitis. But several months later, he has a diagnosis of ALS, he’s played his last concert and has care aides coming into his home three times a day to look after him. Recently divorced, Richard’s relationship with his ex-wife Karina and daughter Grace is almost non-existent. But when Karina hears about Richard’s diagnosis she starts thinking about their relationship and how they got here, what they should do to try and make things as right as they can before his inevitable death. After selling his apartment, Richard moves back into the home he shared with Karina and she cares for him as his ALS takes more from him every day.

My Thoughts

I didn’t know what this book was about at all until I started reading it. If you’ve been reading this blog for a while (when I remember to come here and post) you might know that I do not like reading books about serious illness like this. It freaks me out, like I’m inviting it into my own life. So I really had to dig deep to stick with this one. Lisa Genova writes incredibly knowledgeable about the physical breakdown of a body with ALS and it was at once incredibly informative and completely horrifying and devastating. 

In the beginning, I wondered how I was going to feel about this book because it was hard to like Richard and Karina. There was anger and disappointment on one side, ego and disinterest on the other. But I thought Genova did a great job at giving each character room for growth, a bit of a redemption arc if you will. I thought it was a layered, nuanced portrayal of not only marriage but the relationships people have with their parents and as parents.

By the time the book ended, I was in tears. Richard and Karina are able to forgive each other and say the things that they needed to say. Every Note Played really shows the power of “I’m sorry.”

What does the book say about being a wife?

 Richard and Karina seemed to have a very traditional marriage, even while each of them were struggling within the bounds of marriage. Richard followed his dreams of becoming a concert pianist and Karina, who had herself been a promising pianist, stayed home with Grace. Richard, who had left New York City for an opportunity in Boston, knowing the effect it would have on Karina’s chances of being a jazz pianist, found himself disappointed in their marriage and looked for connection with other women. Karina, resentful of the choice to move to Boston threw herself into Grace but ensured that they wouldn’t have additional children, something Richard came to find out years later.

Richard has never been able to put anyone or anything before his love for the piano, a choice that came to define Karina and Richard’s marriage. 

“To everyone’s disappointment, he’s never been able to love a woman the way he loves piano. Not even Karina.”

“She didn’t realize this at the time, how one-sided the move would be when she agreed to it. She’s often wondered how much Richard understood before they packed up and left. Not being from this country, she simply assumed Boston would have a significant jazz culture. Surely, she would find other hip clubs, other talented artists, other opportunities for expression and hire. […] There is no jazz scene in Boston.”

The longer Karina goes without playing professionally, the more she finds excuses for not following her passion; Richard’s schedule is so hectic, Grace needs Karina around. But then she’s divorced and Grace has gone to college and Karina is still spending her days teaching piano to kids who don’t really want to play. She realizes that she’s used being a wife as a crutch, she’s always been afraid to go for her dream. 

“With stunning clarity, she suddenly sees he role she’s been playing, the costume and mask she chose and has been wearing for twenty years. She’s been hiding, an imposter, unable to give herself permission to do this, to play jazz, to be who she is, shackled inside a prison of blame and excuses.”

In a final twist, it is Richard, the one who took her off her path, who brought her to Boston knowing the impact it would have on her career, who shows her that she is meant to play jazz, that she should finally follow that dream. 

Every Note Played is about the choices we make, the paths not taken and how the person you choose to share your life with has an impact on your life, sometimes even when you’re no longer together.

Be sure to visit the other blogs and get in on the discussion! And come back in June when we’ll discuss Monogamy by Sue Miller.