A DISASTROUS FAILURE TO COMMUNICATE — A REVIEW

In this sad, yet poignant tale, we slowly watch the happiness of this newly married couple slip away.

The beginning paragraphs offer up a clue as to the root of their problems—sexual inexperience and lack of communication. But in the pages that follow, we see how the two met, how they gradually reached the point of marriage, and that the seeds of their future discontent sprouted long before that fateful night.

I liked the author’s style of gradually unfolding the actual events of that night: from the opener, followed by the courtship in its various stages, until finally we see the disaster on Chesil Beach.

The author then gifts the reader with the “near misses” of their lives afterwards, and we cannot help but wish that somehow, the two of them would find each other again—improved by age, wisdom, and experience. But alas….there is no happy ending here.

On Chesil Beach could be a cautionary tale for those who would ignore or choose not to engage in serious communication in the beginning of a relationship. But the time period (pre-sexual revolution) is an indicator of why and how these two failed at this task.

Five stars.


A JOURNEY ACROSS A GREAT DIVIDE — A REVIEW

What happens when, after twenty-four years of marriage, the wife suddenly realizes that she has lost pieces of herself along the way?

It’s not an unusual story, given the nature of marriage. But Elizabeth Shore did have dreams, once upon a time. And it’s not as if she can actually blame her husband Jack, since she hasn’t spoken up or protested enough when they ended up moving repeatedly to follow his dreams.

But something inside Elizabeth clicks when Jack takes a job in NY, and their beautiful home, to which Elizabeth feels especially connected, is in Oregon.

Their girls are grown and in college, so Elizabeth’s decision not to follow Jack seemingly affects only the two of them. But she is wrong about that.

I felt something like a little “click” of my own as I read Distant Shores: A Novel, with the beautifully constructed women characters in Elizabeth’s “passionless” women’s group. A group about rediscovering the passion that ignited them all once upon a time. I also liked how Elizabeth finally connected with her once-disdained stepmother Anita after her father’s death. And the secrets about her own mother that helped turn the tide in her quest.

One woman’s journey of self-discovery kept me turning those pages, and even though the plot felt a bit predictable, I did enjoy the search and the chance to reconnect with one’s bliss.

Four stars.

BEHIND CLOSED DOORS — AN INTERIOR JOURNEY — A REVIEW

Ariel Baxter is very thrilled to be moving into the neighborhood of her dreams. A photographer with a growing business, she anticipates that her life will be just about perfect now.

When she meets her new neighbor, Justine Miller, she learns all about perfection. Or thinks she does. This very organized housewife/mother becomes symbolic of Ariel’s dreams of perfection, and she is quite happy to follow Justine’s lead. To choose her as a role model.

But things are not always what they seem, and what looks like perfect could be as unreal as the illusion that one can attain perfection or control everything in one’s universe.

Themes of pedestals, role models, perfection and those illusory idyllic moments in life carry the reader through She Makes It Look Easy: A Novel. In the end, those unrealistic ideals and fantasies become glaringly apparent to Ariel and to the other richly drawn characters that make up the suburban world in which they live.

This story could be a cautionary tale about imagining perfection, or even one about being careful what you wish for. Certainly the characters discover that comparing one’s insides to the outsides of others is an ill-advised task. This interior journey of discovery is well worth the read for those interested in these themes. I gave this one four stars, for even though I enjoyed the characters and their discoveries, there was a hint of judgment that turned me off, just a bit.

 

HE HAD A WIFE & COULD NOT KEEP HER…– A REVIEW

In Penelope Mortimer’s most popular work, we read a semi-autobiographical account of one woman’s descent into what might be a postpartum depression, but then again, is probably more likely a sad commentary on the deplorable times when women had no audible voice. It explores the “problem that has no name” that has reared its ugly head for one wife and mother living in London (Betty Friedan wrote about this “feminine mystique” a year after this book was published).

Married four times with eight children, the unnamed woman’s difficulties come to a head during her marriage to Jake Armitage, a successful screenwriter. Theirs is a complicated relationship filled with tumult, infidelity, and the inevitable betrayals that chip away at the marital bond.

We meet the woman first on her psychiatrist’s couch, and throughout this tale, we see her confidences, her thoughts, her dreams, and sometimes her fantasies…and then, in the end, we see how Mrs. Armitage finally chooses to carve out some time for herself for contemplation and resolution.

A short and captivating tale, The Pumpkin Eater (New York Review Books Classics) is a chilling, yet sometimes humorous portrayal of marriage and family life. Five stars.

IS MARRIAGE STILL A VIABLE OPTION? — A REVIEW

Marriage, and whether or not to marry, is the topic of Anne Roiphe’s memoir. In it, she explores the traditional marriages in history; the sexual revolution and its impact on marriage; the additional issues that children bring to the marriage; and how divorce and remarriage impact the individuals, the family, and the future.

In Married: A Fine Predicament, she explores each of these topics by describing examples from history, from books, and from her own experiences.

Talking about marriage, by necessity, also involves analyzing the different kinds of marriages and the expectations in each. For example, some marriages allow for infidelities, while others cling to monogamy. The author describes how the need for monogamy might seem contrary to some of her own experiences, like being a “revolutionary, a lover of freedom, a rebel against conventional bonds.” Yet in marrying her second (and last) husband, she realized, after getting to know him and his values (he felt disloyal if he dated more than one woman at a time), that she could not violate such a man’s trust.

After a thorough and detailed description of the various contemporary kinds of couples, from the living together to the married, and all the formats in between, she states:

“Marriage is not the only way to be respectable these days and social power is possessed by those who mock the rules (rock and rap stars, movie stars, wealthy men) and social disapproval carries no real sting in urban America and less than it used to across the land.” She goes on to say that “marriage can answer one human problem better than any other solution yet divined. It can assuage our loneliness.”

Obviously, this author is in favor of marriage, despite is many flaws and failings. She is not anti-divorce, as she writes that sometimes the ending of a marriage is the best solution for all.

Personally, I have experienced marriage and various forms of companionship in between, and while I have, finally, at this time, decided that my individual journey works best for me, I can see the appeal that others find in the institution. Sometimes the children of divorce suffer permanent trauma, but at the same time, the children in unhappy marriages may sustain life-long damage as well.

My conclusions are that each of us has to decide what works best in our own lives, and hopefully have the courage of our convictions.

This thoughtful, provocative, and meaningful exploration earned five stars from me.