7

Literary Wives: Wait For Me, Jack

t’s time for Literary Wives, a blogging club that looks at the depiction of wives in fiction!

Please make sure to check out the posts by the other wives and join in the discussion if you’ve read Wait For Me, Jack by Addison Jones! There are definitely spoilers ahead.

Emily of The Bookshelf of Emily J.
Kay @ Whatmeread
Lynn @ Smoke and Mirrors
Naomi @ Consumed By Ink

The Book

 

wait

Wait For Me, Jack is the story of Jack and Milly’s ‘greatest generation’ marriage. The book starts with the day they meet, it’s Jack’s first day of work and he’s kind of already bored and tries to flirt with Milly (although back then she’s still Billie) and she brushes him off but then at the end of the day she sees him down the street and yells after him to wait up and the rest is history. Or rather, the rest is what makes up the book, told backwards. The next section sees Jack and Milly as seniors in their last days; Jack actually dies in his sleep and Milly is left with his body for days before she tells their children that their father is dead, really casually.

Each section is a different date and year in their lives, never any of the important days that they allude to throughout the book (when their nephews were dropped into their lives to stay, when their baby died etc), just regular days that altogether make up a life. You see their relationship unfurl, from what it is in the end when they really can’t stand each other, to the middle when both of them are kind of at loose ends, to the very beginning when they are trying to build a life together.

My Thoughts

I quite liked the structure of this book – I liked being able to see the regression of the marriage, knowing how it all ended up before seeing how it got that way. It was an interesting way for the characters to develop too, or rather, regress.

Right away I was struck by Jones’ dedication:

To anyone who wonders if they married the wrong person.

It really sets up the novel as both Jack and Milly wonder numerous times what their lives would have been like had they ended up with different people. In Jack’s case he acts on that fantasy with a number of different women, further complicating their lives by bringing an additional child into the mix.

I won’t say that I particularly liked any character in this novel. Oh I’m not the kind of reader that has to like characters in books but when you don’t, it does make it harder to root for them. Jack leans right into being a despicable person with the cheating and the way he looks down on his wife as she ages less gracefully than he perhaps would have preferred. And for her part, I think Milly makes herself into a bit of a martyr, never really standing up for what she wants out of the relationship.

What does the book say about being a wife?

This book felt really Jack-centric to me but we did get a sense of what it was like for Milly at points throughout the novel.

For Milly it seems like a large part of being a wife is putting up with Jack’s shi*t and making him feel like the smarter, more everything partner. She’s not stupid, she knows what he is, what he’s done, where he’s been on some of the important days of their lives. But she’s also a woman of a certain time, a ‘greatest generation’ wife, the people who just got on with it and didn’t complain. What happens to her life, her children, Milly, if she leaves Jack, the breadwinner?

She imagined leaving but couldn’t get past the practical difficulties. Where to go, and with what money?[…] If she left this house, somehow, without money, would Billy come with her? Would the older children still respect her, want to visit her? Would she end up like her sister, Louise? Mentally unstable, impoverished, vulnerable? No real home, a transient? Or like her mother – coping with singleness by being manly, tough, aggressively competent?

It seems like, for Milly, the most important part about being a wife is the home she creates. For most of the novel, Milly is inside their home. Later in life it is because she has become crippled, unwilling and unable to leave their home but earlier on home has always been her focus. Without Jack, without her marriage, that home is no longer possible. Their marriage ends in her home with Jack’s passing and we don’t know what becomes of Milly then. Do her children take her in? Does she move to an assisted living facility? Does she stay in the home alone? It is clear at the end of her life that Milly is in no condition to take care of herself. Whatever his failings, and there are many, in the end Jack does take gruding care of her, even while being annoyed that she can’t remember anything, that she can’t walk, that she smells.

Wait For Me, Jack seems to posit that marriage is just an institution designed to stick you with the one person who will annoy you, plague you and break your heart a million times over. A very uplifting read! 🙂

Be sure to visit the other blogs and get in on the discussion! Join us in June when we read A Separation by Katie Kitamura.

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4

Literary Wives: They Were Sisters

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

I wasn’t able to read this book – for the first time ever, the library let me down. Two different cities didn’t have one single copy. I couldn’t find a version online and I had run out of time to order a copy directly from the publisher.

But I hope that you will still take a look at the posts from the other bloggers!

Emily of The Bookshelf of Emily J.
Kay @ Whatmeread
Lynn @ Smoke and Mirrors
Naomi @ Consumed By Ink

And come back in April for Wait for Me, Jack by Addison Jones.

12

Literary Wives: The Stars Are Fire

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

Please make sure to check out the posts by the other wives and join in the discussion if you’ve read The Stars Are Fire by Anita Shreve! There are definitely spoilers ahead.

Emily of The Bookshelf of Emily J.
Kay @ Whatmeread
Lynn @ Smoke and Mirrors
Naomi @ Consumed By Ink

The Book

stars are fire

In post-war Maine, Grace Holland seems to have the perfect life. She has two young healthy children, her husband has a great job as an engineer and they own their own bungalow in a small beach-side town in Maine. But when fire breaks out after a summer long drought, pregnant Grace loses everything in one night and must find a way to build a new life for herself and her children. After going to help fight the fires, her husband Gene doesn’t come back.

After being hospitalized for the loss of her baby, Grace is reunited with her mother and children and they make their way to her late mother-in-law’s home. Reasoning that the home is Gene’s and as Gene’s presumed widow, the home is now hers, she sets to making the house habitable for the family. She finds work as the office manager for a doctor new in town, she learns to drive and buys a car.

And when everyone is happily settled into this new reality, not-really dead Gene returns badly injured with a different personality, like a bomb ready to tear everything apart.

My Thoughts

I spent the first half waiting for Gene to return – it wasn’t a ‘twist’ that was particularly well hidden. The stage was already set for him to be a horrible person – their third child was conceived after a forcible encounter, something that deeply shamed Grace. Although her life before the fire looked like one that would be envied, it was clear from the first page that it was all a facade. Gene drank a little too much, their life was rigidly structured, and socializing too much with the neighbours was frowned upon.

I liked reading this book. It could have been incredibly saccharine and heavy handed but Grace has enough hardness to her that she doesn’t become a stranded damsel. She is more than capable of handling the challenges that have been sent her way. I appreciated that we got to see Grace rebuilding her life on her own before the reappearance of Gene – it showcased her strength, her abilities and served to foreshadow how Grace could react should her life fall apart again.

This time Grace isn’t content to live the life that other people think should be good enough.

What does the book say about being a wife?

For a lot of the book, Grace isn’t a wife. She navigates her life in the aftermath of her marriage, when a natural disaster has robbed her of all of the material possessions and status she was supposed to want. In many ways, Grace is freed from her status as a wife. When she is married, she is unsure of what she wants and there is a certain inevitability to her days.

Her and Gene’s marriage is not a love match, they met and her mother urged her to marry him as he would be able to give her the kind of life that would be easy. Her mother also feels a certain relief in her widowhood, her husband having died in the course of his work as a fisherman. Grace’s mother doesn’t understand why Grace questions her life at all. For her it is simple: a husband provides and a wife makes a nice home.

I think Grace was traumatized by the death of her father and the withdrawal of her mother and she saw Gene as a way to have her own life. But that life isn’t what she thought it would be, probably because it was missing any kind of affection. Freed from the constraints of her marriage (albeit under fairly tragic circumstances), Grace is able to learn who she is and what she wants.

When Gene returns, he destroys all of that. He is horribly disfigured, angry, violent and crass. The aggressive tendencies he had already displayed towards her in the Before, are no longer disguised and in an effort to protect her children, Grace allows Gene to take his anger out on her. Mostly it seems like The Stars Are Fire is saying that being a wife is suffocating and horrible and one shouldn’t get married young to people who are virtual strangers. It is only once Grace gets to live her own life as a single person that she finds any kind of happiness.

Be sure to visit the other blogs and get in on the discussion! Join us in February when we read They Were Sisters by Dorothy Whipple.

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Literary Wives: An American Marriage

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

Please make sure to check out the posts by the other wives and join in the discussion if you’ve read An American Marriage by Tayari Jones!

Emily of The Bookshelf of Emily J.
Kay @ Whatmeread
Lynn @ Smoke and Mirrors
Naomi @ Consumed By Ink

The Book

an american marriage

Celestial and Roy have only been married a short while when they make the fateful decision not to spend the night at Roy’s parents’ house and go to a hotel instead. Before that night, their backgrounds had already caused some friction in their year and a half old marriage; Roy’s family is from the country, working hard for every penny while Celestial’s city family has been more than comfortable ever since her father sold a chemical invention to a juice company.

But after the night in the hotel, Roy is arrested for something he did not do and their marriage is sorely tested when Roy spends the next five years incarcerated. When he is out early, Celestial is confronted with the decisions she’s made in the time that Roy was away, namely those having to do with the relationship she’s been in with her childhood friend, Andre.

My Thoughts

The book has gotten a lot of buzz this year as first Oprah picked it for her book club and then former President Barack Obama included it in his list of books he loved over the summer. I’d bought a copy when Oprah made her announcement so I was glad for this push to finally read it. It didn’t take me long to realize that I was reading something incredible.

When Roy is in prison they communicate via letter only. In this way Jones conveys not only the physical distance between them but how disjointed their communication is; how things are misinterpreted or misunderstood and how difficult it is to undo that when you can’t see the person frequently. The letters show the progression of this phase of their marriage, from their anger and disbelief when Roy is first convicted, united in their grief over how much they are missing out on, to the distance as Celestial misses more and more visits, moving on with her life in the outside world, while Roy is stuck in a kind of loop.

Shortly after Roy is arrested, Celestial realizes that she is pregnant and they make the decision for her to have an abortion. Neither of them can face the idea of their child in the world while Roy is locked away. But later, each sees this decision in a different way. I thought this was another brilliant way to showcase not just their marriage, but marriage in general (albeit it at a completely different level). Similarly, it felt like Jones’ decision to include every characters’ middle names was a way of showing how they were all imprisoned by Roy’s incarceration, that they were each named like prisoners, no mistaking which Roy or Celestial or Andre they were talking about.

The novel is about this marriage but it’s also about class differences, race, being Black in America, art, how to build a life. It’s a big novel in a concentrated space (306 pages).

What does the book say about being a wife?

In terms of what An American Marriage says about being a wife, I think the point it’s trying to make is that wifedom, being married, is about the every day things, building and experiencing a life together. If you can’t do that, then your marriage is only in name.

Celestial has a hard time with the idea of being someone’s wife. In the end, when Andre is pushing for her to marry him, she says that she prefers the idea of a communion, not a marriage. She is more in love with the idea of companionship, of every day life with another person, but she chafes under anything more official, as though her marriage is the reason her life looks the way that it does now. The longer Roy is in prison, the harder Celestial has to work to remember him as a real person:

The truth is that before Roy materialized in my living room, I had forgotten that he was real. For the last two years, he was only an idea to me, this husband of mine who didn’t count. He had been away from me longer than we had been together. I’d convinced myself that there were laws limiting responsibility […] that I would be a memory to him in the way he was a memory for me.

Without Roy in front her of every day, Celestial lives her life solo without the obligations that come with being a wife. She already had a hard time being the wife to someone whose background was so different to her own, forgetting that not everyone was afforded the privileges and experiences she was. Without the ability to share a life, Celestial can’t see how she will continue to be a wife to Roy, a point that’s driven home when she attends Roy’s mother’s funeral,

What we have here isn’t a marriage. A marriage is more than your heart, it’s your life. And we are not sharing ours.

An American Marriage is a heartbreaking story about a marriage mortally wounded by the systemic racism of a justice system and the people who get caught in its trap.

In December, we’re reading The Stars Are Fire by Anita Shreve!

13

Literary Wives: First Love

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

Please make sure to check out the posts by the other wives and join in the discussion if you’ve read First Love by Gwendoline Riley.

Emily of The Bookshelf of Emily J.
Kay @ Whatmeread
Lynn @ Smoke and Mirrors
Naomi @ Consumed By Ink

The Book

first love

First Love is the story of Neve’s marriage to Edwyn. They live together in London and are definitely not suited to each other – Edwyn thinks that Neve is dirty and trashy and Neve is self-conscious of her origins compared to Edwyn’s. They go through cycles of calm, where neither are particularly interested in being involved with the other but aren’t at each other’s throats, and explosions of temper than end in threats of leaving each other.

The book looks at Neve’s life and the decisions that ultimately brought her to Edwyn. There’s the relationship with her parents with eerie echoes of her own marriage, the musician she keeps coming back to, thinking that with him she could have had something different, the crushing loneliness of finding herself on her own for the first time.

 

My Thoughts

So this book isn’t long – my copy was 166 pages – which was probably a good thing as I read it in the early newborn days. I read it while nursing or bouncing her around the garden in her baby wrap. How much I was able to focus on what I was reading is about to be determined.

I do remember thinking that this book is exactly the kind of book that would be shortlisted for a literary prize (Baileys Women’s Prize for Fiction 2017). I didn’t find it particularly emotional considering the subject matter. There’s always such a distance in books that are considered for such awards, as though emotion is unseemly and unworthy of consideration. One must focus on the craft.

I did feel anger towards Edwyn and Neve’s father for gaslighting the hell out of Neve, making her think that the things she was feeling were invalid, that the things she remembers happening never did. Neve learns to make herself small, to tread softly so as not to incite the wrath of her bullying and overbearing father, traits she brings into her marriage to Edwyn.

I honestly wanted to shake Neve out of her submission and I wanted to slap Edwyn. Reading the conversations between Neve and her husband, where he twists everything she says to make her feel stupid was honestly one of the most infuriating things.

Ultimately, it felt like the kind of book that looks at the cyclical nature of our most important relationships. Neve is treated terribly by her father and when the same comes to pass in her marriage, she doesn’t seem to think she deserves any better.

 

What does the book say about being a wife?

First Love is a book about being trapped in a marriage, in the role of wife. Neve is unable to see her life without Edwyn in it. She believes his ideas about her, that she drinks too much (she got really drunk once and vomited when she got home, something Edwyn has never let her forget), that she’s trashy, she’s dumb even though she supposedly reads.

Further complicating the matter is the fact that Edwyn suffers from a heart condition, the same one that killed her father. Neve feels intense guilt even thinking about leaving Edwyn, has guilt over her father dying, believing that visiting him more often could have somehow changed the outcome.

Neve has loads of baggage from her relationship with her father, which interferes in her marriage. Even though Edwyn is never physically violent with her, there are echoes of her parents’ marriage in her own and in some ways that makes Neve feel safe. She knows what kind of husband Edwyn will be even as his behaviour becomes more erratic. She believes that as his wife, she’s the only one that can provide him with comfort as he struggles with his health. For Neve, her role as wife means giving over everything of herself in service to her husband.

 

In October, we’ll be discussing An American Marriage by Tayari Jones.

16

Literary Wives: The Blazing World

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

Please make sure to check out the posts by the other wives and join in the discussion if you’ve read The Blazing World by Siri Hustvedt.

Ariel @  One Little Library
Kate @ Kate Rae Davis
Kay @ Whatmeread
Lynn @ Smoke and Mirrors
Naomi @ Consumed By Ink
TJ @ My Book Strings

The Book

blazing

Artist Harriet Burden has long suspected that her work has been discounted as serious because of her gender. So she decides to test out her theory by having three different men act as her work’s proxies. She chooses the men at different stages of their careers and has them pass off her work as their own, to great critical acclaim. But her last cover, Rune, a successful artist in his own right turns on her, refusing to allow her to claim back her work. Their intense struggle ends only when Rune dies under mysterious circumstances.

 

My Thoughts

I was so ready to like this book. An angry women intent on proving that her industry doesn’t take her seriously because of her gender, a struggle that ends in the bizarre death of her male foil? Sign me up!

Unfortunately, for me, the execution of it left something to be desired. I’m not ever really a huge fan of diary style books. I don’t like the disjointed feeling of articles and research and journal entries making up the narrative of a book and that was no different in the case of The Blazing World. I also found it odd that a book about a woman asserting her place in her creative world was told by other people – maybe that was the point and my dense ass missed it. But it annoyed me. Especially when I was reading articles or interviews by men who were critical of Harriet and her work, calling her a liar and a hanger on and only known because she was the wife of her late husband, the critic Felix Lord (great name). Again, maybe that was the point but it grated on me.

Even when there were sections of the book that I was enjoying, they were always short lived. I never felt like I got a good sense of Harriet, that the chaos of her inner life made it impossible to get to know her. I’m not sure that anyone in her life ever actually got to know her; Phineas Q.Eldridge, her second cover, probably got the closest of anyone.

I was also promised a bizarre death, one that was aswirl with rumour and intrigue and in the end, it was a pretty run of the mill suicide?

I think I got so caught up in the style of the book that I wasn’t able to appreciate the content. Which is a shame because there might have been something to it. For me though, The Blazing World didn’t spark any great feeling in this reader, except relief when I finished it.

What does the book say about being a wife?

It’s taken me a while to get buy head wrapped around the question of being a wife within the scope of The Blazing World. There is the obvious parts that have to do with Harriet married to Felix and how her career took a backseat to his. That while he was a successful art dealer, responsible for kickstarting numerous art careers, she was a wife and mother, known only as “Felix’s wife.”

Most of the time I was struck by Harriet’s anger, not at being a wife, but at being dismissed because of her gender. Right after Felix’s death, she is annoyed at being known  just as her husband’s wife, which is what starts her thinking about her new project. But that project becomes less about having been a wife and more about the disappointments of her work not being critically recognized because they were just the dabblings of a woman. She rages at the men in her life not because she felt trapped in her marriage but because she’s been discounted her entire life, starting with a father who wished she was a boy. She spends her entire life consumed by anger and in the end, it felt like all that rage killed her. It was her reproductive organs, the ones that defined her sex, that turned deadly.

But each of Harriet’s ‘collaborations’ with the male artists she picks for her project can be seen as a kind of creative marriage. Within each relationship Harriet must assert her role, must fight to find the light working in the shadows of her ‘husband.’ Ultimately, with her final ‘husband’, Harriet fails and she withers in the darkness of this failure.

The Blazing World seems to say that if women want success in their careers, they can’t be trapped in marriage, that the demands of a husband, the destructive forces of the needs of children, will destroy any plans for career success. In order for a woman to fulfill her career ambitions, she needs to stand on her own, not weighed down by others. In attempting to show the world that her work hasn’t been seen because she’s been the wrong sex, Harriet discovers that she’s entered into another kind of marriage that has snuffed out the glowing embers of what could have been a great career on her own terms.

17

Literary Wives: On Beauty

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

Please make sure to check out the posts by the other wives and join in the discussion if you’ve read On Beauty by Zadie Smith!

Ariel @  One Little Library
Kate @ Kate Rae Davis
Kay @ Whatmeread
Lynn @ Smoke and Mirrors
Naomi @ Consumed By Ink
TJ @ My Book Strings

The Book

Howard Belsey is an Englishman living in the U.S., a professor at a prestigious university. He is married to Kiki, a Black American woman, who could not be more different from him. As they approach their 30th wedding anniversary, Howard complicates their life by having a short-lived affair with someone – when Kiki realizes he’s been unfaithful, he admits it but lies about the identity of the woman.

As Kiki and Howard try to decide what their future looks like, their three children are each beginning to live their own, very separate lives: Jerome, who escaped to England to live and work for Howard’s professional opposite, Monty Kipps, is discovering his faith and leaning into a more conservative belief system, and believes himself to fall in love with disastrous results; hot-headed Zora, agitating for a cause, brings a talented young man from the Boston streets into the college fold, ignoring everything except her own thoughts on the matter; and Levi, content to ignore his privileged background to hang out with his new friends on Boston’s streets, hustling for a living, slipping further and further from the heart of the family.

My Thoughts

So this is now the third book of Zadie Smith’s that I’ve read and this was probably the one that frustrated me the most. With White Teeth and Swing Time, I found enough in them to keep the reading momentum going and at no point did I want to throw the book across the room.

But On Beauty? There were moments that I wanted to scream. I’m not here to dispute the fact that Smith can write – she is clearly super talented. But there is something so cold, so distant about what she writes. I also felt kind of misled about how this book was all going to play out – the synopsis made it seem like Jerome made a bad decision and as the Belseys become more involved in the lives of the Kippses, all sorts of conflict came up. But that ‘conflict’ was ice cold and had less to do with the co-mingling of the families and everything to do with Howard Belsey going through a mid-life crisis and chasing pretty young things.

You know how there’s that idea that in order for a book to be considered serious literature it has to do with a white, middle aged man facing his mortality by cheating on his long-suffering wife? I think with On Beauty Zadie Smith herself might have bought into that idea.

I almost rage-quit reading this when Howard sleeps with the daughter of his enemy. The 18 year old daughter. I just cannot emphasize enough how much I don’t care about the cliche of a mid-life crisis.

I wanted more Kiki. I wanted to see more of her dealing with her husband’s total betrayal of the whole life they had built together. I wanted her to scream at him, kick him out of the house that was hers, see her grow close to Monty Kipps’ wife, Carlene. Instead, I got lame-ass Howard, feeling sorry for himself, outshone in every area of his life because he sucks.

There’s also something really confusing about the way Smith writes about race. It feels almost self-loathing and it always leaves me disappointed that she shied away from taking it on in any meaningful way. She seems to have the pieces there – interracial couple, biracial children, class differences exacerbated by race – and then she just leaves them there to…do what I’m not exactly sure. Just read this, to get a sense of what I mean.

What does the book say about being a wife? 

So, now that we’ve got all that out of the way, let’s get to the point of this exercise! I think, when On Beauty leaves enough room for Kiki, it asks this question of marriage: Is it a what or a whom that one lives for?

Kiki has spent the last thirty years moulding her life around that of her husband and children. She didn’t stay at home, but she had the kind of career that could be picked up and moved, she made time for the kinds of events her husband needed her at, ensured that the kids were where they needed to be. So when Howard cheats on her, essentially throws their life in her face, she doesn’t know what to do. What about her dreams? What is it that gives her life meaning now?

I think the question of how a wife lives is illustrated the best in a conversation that Kiki has with Carlene Kipps. Carlene and her family have moved to the area as Monty has accepted a position at the same school as Howard, but she is no longer the vibrant woman she was a year ago. Carlene is seriously ill with a mystery sickness (mystery as she doesn’t disclose it to anyone), and Kiki finds herself drawn to this woman.

She goes over one day and brings a pie as a kind of peace offering. They discuss their lives, their husbands and children, and to a degree, their philosophies on life and love. For Carlene, it’s been her life’s work to sacrifice everything in the service of her husband and his dreams. She understands that it frees her to allow Monty to chase and “possess” the young women he becomes obsessed with for short periods of time. She says that she used to fight it but came to realize that it took too much energy, that when she just allowed it to happen, it meant that her husband was able to do better work.

“I lived because I loved this person. I am very selfish, really. I lived for love. I never really interested myself in the world – my family, yes, but not the world. I can’t make a case for my life, but it is true.”

So does a woman live her life in the world, or does she give that up to live for a person she loves? In the end, Kiki makes a decision to live in the world, even temporarily, to see what her life looks like without the complication of Howard’s ‘love’ (can we call it that? Selfish ass).

I think it’s safe to say that my Zadie Smith experiment is over.