6

#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.

5

#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.

11

#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.

11

#LiteraryWives: The Age of Innocence

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 Age of Innocence by Edith Wharton! There are definitely spoilers ahead.

Cynthia @ I Love Days
Kay @ Whatmeread
Lynn @ Smoke and Mirrors
Naomi @ Consumed By Ink

The Book

 

age-of-innocence

Edith Wharton’s novel, published in 1920, was the first by a woman to win the Pulitzer Prize. Her 12th novel, The Age of Innocence was originally serialized and is one of her three novels of New York (The House of Mirth and The Custom of the Country are the other two).

It’s New York in the 1870s and Newland Archer is about to marry sweet, young May Welland. According to both of their families, this is a perfect match, further uniting them all. But then May’s disgraced cousin Ellen returns to the city after a failed marriage to a Polish count. The beautiful, willful and independent Countess Olenska makes Newland feel all kinds of new feelings and he has to choose between a conventional, easy but passionless marriage to May or an alluring and forbidden love affair with Ellen that would see them both shunned from the world they know.

My Thoughts

This was the second time I read The Age of Innocence. The first time I gave it five stars and was no doubt swept up in the romance and setting of it all. I felt a little differently about it this time!

I still really liked it – although it was hard to really get into it with all the other noise in the world. BUT I kind of hated that our main character was male. Go ahead, roll your eyes, get it out of your system. I had a hard time not rolling my eyes every time Newland refers to the women in his life, especially May. His poor sister Janey is getting to that time in life when it’s not really appropriate for her to wear a traditional wedding gown, it’s tiresome to have to provide May with the thoughts she should have about anything, he can’t read poetry out loud anymore because May always asks so many questions etc. 

And it was hard to sympathize completely with his conundrum: marry May or run away with Ellen because he was a man in his time. A wealthy man! He could have easily run away with Ellen and lived another life and there would have been few consequences beyond being shunned by society he wasn’t that attached to anyway. Poor May would have been jilted and that would have impacted her chances at a ‘good’ marriage. And of course Ellen would have forever been a scarlet woman. 

Newland does a lot of supposing about May, what kind of woman she is, what she thinks and feels but he doesn’t spend a lot of time actually talking to her. 

“There was no use in trying to emancipate a wife who had not the dimmest notion that she was not free.” 

Ultimately he does the right thing and stays with May and I did appreciate that. I kind of like when characters do the so-called right thing rather than the thing that feels good and exciting. I like that he stayed with May, that he accepted that and made a good life out of the choice he felt he had to make. I even kind of like that when he had another chance at a life with Ellen he didn’t take it! 

What has happened to my romantic tendencies??

What does the book say about being a wife?

This book has a lot to say about how to be a good wife but it’s never from the perspective of any actual wives. In the end, the battle is between the rewards of being a good and faithful wife whose husband thinks you’re dull and those of doing what you want and not settling for a husband who treats you terribly even if it means giving up the kind of lifestyle most only dream of. 

When Newland is still trying to make a case to the families for the Countess Olenska not to go back to her husband, the family’s matriarch asks if he knows what he’s asking her to give up?

“But on the material side, Mr Archer, if one may stoop to consider such things; do you know what she is giving up? Those roses there on the sofa – acres like them, under glass and in the open, in his matchless terraced gardens at Nice! Jewels – historic pearls; the Sobieski emeralds – sables – but she cares nothing for these. Art and beauty, those she does care for, she lives for, as I always have; and those also surrounded her. Pictures, priceless furniture, music, brilliant conversation. […] And she had it all; and the homage of the greatest. […] Are these things nothing? And the remorse of an adoring husband?” 

The society that they live in makes it almost impossible for a marriage to be a true partnership, to allow for two people to fall honestly in love. They’re not allowed to be alone, they have to marry within a certain set of families, everything is in service to appearances. 

“In reality they all lived in a kind of hieroglyphic world, where the real thing was never said or done or even thought, but only represented by a set of arbitrary signs.”

Newland, May and Ellen are all victims of a society that would rather see them miserable than live unconventional lives.

Be sure to visit the other blogs and get in on the discussion! And come back in March when we’ll discuss Every Note Played by Lisa Genova. 

8

#LiteraryWives: Alternate Side

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 Alternate Side by Anna Quindlen! There are definitely spoilers ahead.

Cynthia @ I Love Days
Kay @ Whatmeread
Lynn @ Smoke and Mirrors
Naomi @ Consumed By Ink

The Book

alternate side

Nora and Charlie Nolan have been married for a long time. They live in a beautiful house on a dead-end block in New York City, the kind of block where the residents all know one another and what’s going on with them. Their twins are about to graduate from college and it’s just Charlie and Nora living in this big house with their old dog, Homer, and assistance running the home from the housekeeper, Charity, and occasional handyman, Ricky.

Things are humming along for the most part but Charlie wants to eventually leave the City and Nora can’t imagine ever living anywhere else. One day, when coming back from a run, Nora witnesses something happening on the block that becomes the thread that unravels everything.

My Thoughts

This is definitely more of what one might call a character-driven novel but I really like it. Sometimes in books like this, it can feel like it takes a while to get to the point but I didn’t feel that way with this one. I thought Quindlen did an excellent job with the pacing of the story, giving readers enough to stay on to find out what’s going to happen.

Alternate Side had a lot of layers to it as well. I appreciated the kind of quiet take on racism, classism, marriage, feminism, and motherhood. For a book that’s less than 300 pages, Quindlen sure packed a lot in. Even the peripheral characters felt fully formed and actually brought something to the table, versus being pawns to move the story along.

What does the book say about being a wife?

I felt like Alternate Side was saying that it’s easy to let a lifetime of little things be all that keeps you together. When you’re first married, you have the rush of being newly married, of having proclaimed to all your family and friends that you love each other. And then maybe you add kids, your work gets more challenging, you have a house to look after, chores to get done, maybe you add a pet or two. Early on, I think you are conscious of being a team; to survive kids and life, you have to work together.

But then things become more rote, more everyday and you slip into a rhythm that’s hard to shake. Something like what happens to the handyman has to shake you out of your rhythm, makes you take a hard look at your partner, whether or not you’re on the same page, if you want the same things, and crucially, if you want to keep going together.

Nora is of the generation that very much sees men as additional children they have to look after. Being his wife means making his life more comfortable, going to the dinner parties and work events as his plus-one, talking him out of the things that she thinks he’s not that serious about, like moving out of the City.

“But ultimately, arranging things for someone is not the same as loving him. It’s work, not devotion.” (p. 253)

Nora has a group of girlfriends that she meets for lunch and they always talk about marriage and one friend, Jenny, has never been married. And then she meets someone and he’s not at all what anyone would have assumed she’d go for (she’s an academic and he’s a cabinet maker who has been caring for a sourdough starter for a decade) but he makes her happy and they get married. At the same time, Nora’s marriage is ending and it strikes her how crazy it is that most of us get married when we’re young and don’t yet know anything:

“You had to really, really, really like being with someone. Yet somehow that was a decision they were all expected to make when they were too young to know very much. They were expected to make all the important decisions then: what to do, where to live, who to live with. But anyone could tell you, looking at the setup dispassionately, that most people would be incapable of making good choices if they had to make that many choices at the same time, at that particular time of their lives.” (p. 249)

In the end, Alternate Side isn’t about big life events. It’s about how the little things add up to make a life, how those every day things are the ones that grate and grind and change the path you thought you were on.

“Nora had been married to Charlie without seeing him for a long time. She realized that they all assumed that if their marriages ended, it would be with a big bang: the other woman, the hidden debts. […] The truth was that some of their marriages were like balloons: a few went suddenly pop, but more often than not the air slowly leaked out until lit was a sad, wrinkled little thing with no lift to it anymore.” (p. 253)

For Nora, being a wife is one of her many roles and one that doesn’t quite fit anymore. Nora and Charlie make the decision to end their marriage quietly and mutually. Free of the burden of expectations the other has for them, of how they each see the other, they are able to explore different endings.

Be sure to visit the other blogs and get in on the discussion! And come back in December when we’ll discuss The Age of Innocence by Edith Wharton. I will be curious what I think about this one – the last time I read it, I gave it 5 stars.

13

#LiteraryWives: The Dutch House

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

This month we have a new Wife joining us! Please welcome Cynthia to the group! Cynthia is a former technical writer business analyst, Peace Corps Volunteer, and teacher from Texas who traded that life in for two suitcases and a string of foreign addresses. Or at least that was the plan until COVID19 hit. You can find her at her blog, I Love Days and I hope you’ll pop in and read her take on The Dutch House.

And 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 Dutch House by Ann Patchett! There are definitely spoilers ahead.

Cynthia @ I Love Days
Kay @ Whatmeread
Lynn @ Smoke and Mirrors
Naomi @ Consumed By Ink

A note before we get to it: I read The Dutch House at Christmas, before it was selected as one of our Literary Wives picks. So I didn’t read it with that lens and it was a dense read from the library which means I didn’t re-read it for this. All that to say, I’m clearly the slacker of the Literary Wives bunch.

The Book

From Goodreads:

dutch houseAt the end of the Second World War, Cyril Conroy combines luck and a single canny investment to begin an enormous real estate empire, propelling his family from poverty to enormous wealth. His first order of business is to buy the Dutch House, a lavish estate in the suburbs outside of Philadelphia. Meant as a surprise for his wife, the house sets in motion the undoing of everyone he loves.

The story is told by Cyril’s son Danny, as he and his older sister, the brilliantly acerbic and self-assured Maeve, are exiled from the house where they grew up by their stepmother. The two wealthy siblings are thrown back into the poverty their parents had escaped from and find that all they have to count on is one another. It is this unshakable bond between them that both saves their lives and thwarts their futures.

My Thoughts

I’m glad that I read this one over Christmas because it meant that I had big chunks of time to sit with it. As ever Ann Patchett is the master of the character driven novel, creating a layered relationship between a brother and sister that you don’t see that often in literature. I always enjoy these decades-long stories of a single family and all the ways that they betray each other, and The Dutch House definitely scratched that itch for me.

What does the book say about being a wife?

There were three marriages at the centre of this one: Cyril and Elna, Danny and Maeve’s parents, Cyril and Andrea, the stepmother, and then later Danny and his wife. None of the marriages are built on any version of truth, rather they are built on fairy tales and idealizations. Cyril dreams of owning the Dutch House, of living a big life, the kind that was only ever dreamed about where he grew up; Elna lives to help the less fortunate, the excess of the life Cyril has built for them disgusting her. Andrea only ever seems to want to possess the house, not seeming to care for Cyril except in what he can give her. And Danny actively lies to his wife, buying and flipping properties behind her back because he knows that she wouldn’t approve.

But as Maeve and Danny are the centre of this story, we only get their views of the marriages and the wives. Maeve in particular builds her mother up to be some kind of saint. When Elna reappears, she is very much not that. Each woman a portrait of wifedom, lacking the animation of the real thing.

Be sure to visit the other blogs and get in on the discussion! In September we’ll discuss Alternate Side by Anna Quindlen.

5

#LiteraryWives: The War of the Wives

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

If you haven’t already (because I was supposed to post about this on Monday), please make sure to check out the posts by the other wives and join in the discussion if you’ve read War of the Wives by Tamar Cohen! There are definitely spoilers ahead.

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

Just before we get to it, I want to apologize to the other bloggers in this group for dropping the ball so egregiously this time. For some reason it was impossible for me to get a copy of this book (from 2015!) and even though I ordered it from Amazon weeks ago, it didn’t arrive until Monday. And then I got a stomach bug. But I finally finished it last night so let’s do this.

The Book

war or the wives

Selina Busfield looks great for her age. At nearly 50, her skin is smooth (thanks to Botox), her body lean (thanks to yoga at her club), and her home is magazine worthy (thanks to years of buying piece by expensive piece). Her children are nearly grown, and although they aren’t necessarily who or what she would have pictured, they are fine. Her husband, Simon, splits his time between their home and his apartment in Dubai where he works in property development. It’s not ideal but Selina has more than enough to be getting on with, running their home, keeping up with their friends and keeping herself in shape.

And then one night she gets a call from the police. Her husband’s body has been found in the river. Not in Dubai, where he’s supposed to be, but in London. And that’s not even the biggest surprise. At the funeral, a woman shows up and says that she’s Simon’s wife and this is their daughter.

Lottie Busfield has been with Simon for the better part of 20 years. Where Selina is contained, Lottie is a more artistic personality, younger than her husband by 15 years, content to live their life based on what he wants or needs. Two years ago she and their daughter, Sadie, moved back to London while Simon kept working in Dubai.

Now that their husband is gone, both Selina and Lottie have to come to terms with the truth of their marriages, the infidelities and worse, the financial implications of his death.

My Thoughts

This book had actually been on my TBR list for ages, for 4 years! I was drawn to the idea of a melodrama where two women face off after losing a shared husband. But I felt like this book couldn’t decide what it was. For the first two-thirds it was what I expected. Selina and Lottie are both grappling with this new reality, dancing around each other’s families, working through the stages of grief in the midst of the betrayal of the other’s marriage. I liked that the book was split into sections named for the stages of grief, it gave the book a nice flow and allowed Cohen to move the story forward in time pretty seamlessly.

But.

In the end I felt like this book couldn’t decide what it wanted to be. Was it a melodrama, a novel of loss and lies? Or was it a thriller? A “the call is coming from inside the house” kind of deal? I could have done without the allusion to possible incest (I choose to read a lot of messed up fiction, but incest storylines are something I just don’t mess with), the creepy son, the shady dealings the husband may or may not have been involved in, and the stalker vibes.

What does the book say about being a wife?

Both Selina and Lottie wrap their identities in the shell of being wives. Although very different from each other, once their wifehood ends (Selina becomes a widow, Lottie learns her marriage was never legal), each unravels. Selina gives up being the image of the perfect wife: she stops going to the gym (can’t afford the monthly club dues anyway), lets her hair grow out, has casual sex with Simon’s financial advisor. Lottie just retreats into her grief. She thinks she sees Simon everywhere, she wants to live in the memories and the dreams of him, she gives in to the chemical peace offered by the sedatives prescribed by her doctor.

Both women got together with Simon when they were relatively young. Selina gave up on her law degree with a year to go and never finished it. She focused on being a wife, and then a mother, making their home a haven, showing her love by cooking and doing everything for her family. When the children are grown (the youngest is 17 when Simon dies) and Simon is gone, she has to figure out what her life looks like as a single adult, something she never thought would happen. She also assumed that she’d be financially looked after, that Simon would always ensure that she wouldn’t have to worry about money. When that security blanket is also ripped away, Selina faces having to make her own way for the first time at 50. Without the protective layer of being Mrs Simon Busfield, Selina is suddenly at the mercy of the world.

Lottie was also a student when she met Simon, who was 15 years older (and had just had a new baby a month earlier). She let Simon take care of her – she took for granted that he would handle their finances, didn’t participate in the decisions around their money or mortgages, was content to sit by the pool and read novel after novel while they lived in Dubai. In London she works in a hotel or spa during the day and works on children’s book illustrations at night but is under no illusion that her work will pay the bills. She’s also been a fairly hands off mother to her teenage daughter, happy to watch how close Simon and Sadie are to each other. Simon’s death basically blows up Lottie’s entire life and she doesn’t have the personality of Selina to weather the storm.

Basically, Tamar Cohen is telling married women to make sure to participate in the finances!

Be sure to visit the other blogs and get in on the discussion! My apologies again to my fellow Wives for being late to the party on this one.

8

#LiteraryWives: The Home-Maker

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

If you haven’t already (because I was supposed to post about this on Monday), please make sure to check out the posts by the other wives and join in the discussion if you’ve read The Home-Maker by Dorothy Canfield Fisher! There are definitely spoilers ahead.

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

The Book

homemaker

Published in 1924, The Home-Maker is quite progressive in it’s story of a woman who is forced to enter the workforce after an accident leaves her husband a paraplegic. Before she goes to work, Evangeline Knapp is a very competent home-maker, whose children are always well turned out, and who the other women in the community look up to as a pinnacle of motherhood. Her husband Lester meanwhile, took a job as an accountant against his more creative, artistic tendencies, who the community views as another burden that Evangeline must shoulder. Both parents are miserable while the two older children suffer from digestive ailments and their younger brother is a known terror whose mother can’t wait to send him to school.

Due to a company restructuring, Lester loses his job. But before he can tell Evangeline, there is a fire at a neighbour’s house and in trying to help, Lester ‘falls’ off a roof and winds up paralyzed. Evangeline, never one to sit back and rely on other people to do for her, goes to the store where Lester worked and asks if she might have a job. It turns out that Evangeline is also excellent at working in a department store and while she goes from strength to strength, Lester begins to work out how to keep the house and feed the children so that his wife doesn’t have to worry about anything but working. And he finds that he loves being home with the kids, that washing dishes and mending socks leaves his mind free to wander. The children improve in every way: the older two recover from their digestive problems and the youngest turns into a sunny, thoughtful, clever little boy.

My Thoughts

So, I loved this book. It gave me a lot to think about, how the pressures of the outside world and the expectations we have for our lives can erase the small joys. I loved reading about Lester discovering his children and what made them happy, the things that they thought about and how he was able to support them in growing to be the people they wanted to be. I also loved reading about the satisfaction that Evangeline got from learning the store business and how thrilled the store owners were with her, how she was exactly the kind of person they were looking for to help them run things.

Apparently when the book was published, Canfield Fisher was keen that people understand that she meant the book to be about the children, that it wasn’t a feminist work. In a lot of ways, the book does circle around the children. How, when their mother is home with them, everything is done and done well but there is no joy in the house. Evangeline is resigned to her life but she takes no pleasure in it, she is doing what society expects her to do. The same is true for Lester, and so their children become victims of those expectations. When they are forced to buck the norms, everything gets better.

What does the book say about being a wife?

For Evangeline, being a wife is a solitary endeavor because being a wife also means being a mother and being at home:

She passed her life in solitary confinement, as home-makers always do, with a man who naturally looked at things from a man’s standpoint […] and with children who could not in the nature of things share a single interest of hers…

Canfield Fisher seems to be saying that life is better for all if everyone, regardless of gender, is allowed to follow their heart’s desires. Lester, it turns out, is much better suited to home-making but he is only allowed to do it while he is physically incapable of going out to work. The neighbours certainly find it strange and odd that a man should want to do house work:

‘Oh Lester, let me do that! The idea of your darning stockings! It’s dreadful enough your having to do the housework!’
‘Eva darned them a good many years,’ he said, with some warmth, ‘and did the housework. Why shouldn’t I?’ He looked at her hard and went on, ‘Do you know what you are saying to me, Mattie Farnham? You are telling me that you really think that home-making is a poor, mean, cheap job, beneath the dignity of anybody who can do anything else.’

Lester and Evangeline are only able to be good partners to each other when they are allowed to follow their natural inclinations and contribute to the household based on their strengths. When it looks like things might go back to the way they were, because Lester may recover the use of his legs after all, both are devastated at the thought of it. Evangeline had been sacrificing for fourteen years because for her, in her time, being a wife means putting herself last and making sure everyone else is fed and clothed and the house is spotless. The role of wife constricted her and stifled her natural tendencies. Ultimately, Lester makes the biggest sacrifice by remaining in a wheelchair for the rest of his days so that his family can continue to thrive.

Be sure to visit the other blogs and get in on the discussion! My apologies again to my fellow Wives for being late to the party on this one. Join us in February when we read War of the Wives by Tamar Cohen.

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#LiteraryWives: A Whoops

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 Home-Maker by Dorothy Canfield-Fisher!

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

Except that I ordered the book hoping that five weeks would be enough time to receive and read the book and it only arrived yesterday. I’m only 50 pages in! I like what I’ve read so far though so here’s the plan:

  • You all visit Kay, Lynn and Naomi and read their posts about The Home-Maker;
  • I finish the book this week and post about it so I can join the discussion properly;
  • You all accept my deepest apologies for this oversight, especially Kay, Lynn and Naomi!

See you all back later to discuss?

8

#LiteraryWives: Happenstance

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 Happenstance by Carol Shields! There are definitely spoilers ahead.

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

The Book

happenstance

This book is two complete novels in one. One novel follows Brenda Bowman as she spends five days in Philadelphia to attend an exhibition as part of the Chicago Craft Guild. Four years earlier, Brenda began making quilts and she’s quite good at it, selling her pieces as art. Having given up her career when she got married to Jack, these days away are the first time she’s traveled for ‘work’ and she spends a lot of time in her own head thinking about her marriage, and what she wants out of her quilting work. She winds up meeting a man at the hotel and flirts with the idea of having a kind of affair while she’s away.

The other novel follows Jack back home over the course of the days that Brenda is away. Suddenly Jack is responsible for feeding and looking after their kids, a daughter who is 12 and a son who is 14ish. Jack’s best friend also shows up at the door after his wife left him, and, after a party they host, the neighbour attempts suicide.

Both novels flit back and forth across time, Jack and Brenda when they met, how they grew up, what the early years of their marriage looked like, what it was like to be married with young children during the 1960s. Jack and Brenda both spend a lot of time in their heads, thinking about their marriage, each other, what their live looks like and what it could look like.

My Thoughts

I read the Brenda novel first. There were a lot of aspects of it that I liked – how it dealt with a woman getting back into a kind of career, Brenda’s ruminations on being a wife and mother, and how she felt about being at home with small children while other women seemed to be changing the world. But I was also bored. It took me DAYS to read Brenda’s section (it only took a day and a half to get through Jack’s). The whole will-she-won’t-she cheat angle also bored me. I’m not a fan of this plot in any case, like the only way to bring some excitement into one’s life is to have an affair [insert eye roll].

But I really liked Jack’s novel! There was a lot going on and Shields’ Jack had unusually high emotional intelligence for a man, definitely for a fictional man. It was interesting to get his take on their life together and how he’d mostly been really content being married to Brenda, that he still found her attractive and liked the life they had together. The dissatisfaction that he’s feeling at 43 stems from his work not being as exciting to him as it once was. As he toys with giving up writing the book he’s spent a few years on, it seems like an immense load is lifted and he looks forward to Brenda’s return. Brenda’s novel ends with her uncertainty about what she wants her life to look like, there’s some dread about going back to how things were.

Ultimately, the fact that Brenda decides not to have an affair is likely very realistic but it meant that the whole catalyst for happenings in her novel came to nothing. It wasn’t very interesting or engaging reading.

What does the book say about being a wife?

This book was published in 1980 and was probably incredibly progressive at the time. It was an interesting look at a woman dipping her toe into work outside of the home. Both Brenda and Jack are struggling with issues relating to their work – Jack with the fact that his work isn’t interesting like it used to be and Brenda with the question of how big her ambition is.

The book seems to be saying that being a wife is no longer enough for a fulfilled life. As Brenda is realizing that she wants more from her life, she realizes that she’s actually quite angry and dissatisfied:

At times she found herself longing for that other self, the Brenda of old, smiling and matter-of-fact. […] Whatever it was that had come into her life during the last year or so had brought frustration with it. A restless anger and a sense of undelivered messages.

The Bowman’s marriage is at a crossroads but only one partner realizes it. Jack believes that all is well, that Brenda’s quilting has filled a void he didn’t realize she had, and looks forward to her return from Philadelphia. But for Brenda, her quilting and time in Philadelphia have only served to underscore for her that she wants more and that her marriage might be holding her back. I’m not sure that the Bowman’s marriage survives to be honest.

Be sure to visit the other blogs and get in on the discussion! Join us in December when we read The Home-Maker by Dorothy Canfield Fisher.