Monday, June 21, 2010

What makes a happy marriage?

Nothing like a few lazy hours relaxing with a novel.

Among this weekend's reads were "Writing Jane Austen" by Elizabeth Aston, "The Space Between Us" by John MacKenna and "A Happy Marriage" by Rafael Yglesias.

Each had something going for it, but Yglesias's work is the one that stood out for me.

Aston has penned several novels in her "Darcy Series." This is the first I've read, and I'll confess I likely won't be reading the others. It was a well-paced woman-in-a-pseudo-crisis-romance novel. I enjoyed it, but it left no lasting impression on me. Other than to remind me that I'd like to reread "Pride and Prejudice."

MacKenna's novel was a lot more complicated. At the outset, the protagonist reflects on the night his wife was killed in a car accident leaving him alone to raise their daughter. What follows are his reflections on his relationships with her, his daughter, his mother and his married neighbor. He's a hard character to have much respect for; he did not love his wife, he's not very nice to his mom and that's not the half of it! Though I guess there is something to be said for the novel's claim that it's questioning whether we truly know another person. I'm just not sure this is a person I'd want to know.

The highlight for me was Yglesias' "A Happy Marriage." This autobiographical novel alternates chapters between a couple's early days and the final days of the wife's battle with cancer.

It is a raw and emotional work. Yglesias' Enrique is not without his faults, and his relationship with his wife Margaret not the idyll we like to imagine in a "happy marriage."

Still, I was moved by the exploration. What makes a "happy" marriage? Is it only when faced with its loss that we truly understand what we have in a partner?

Yglesias writes: "Enrique was losing the partner of his past and his present and his future just when he most desired her choreography. ... Yes, he resented them all for asking him to make them feel better that a part of their world was ending, when the very center of his was melting in his palms, slipping through his fingers, spilling onto the floor. Soon, very soon, only a puddle of his heart would remain."

Sigh. Wouldn't it be a nicer world if we all could place our spouses at the center of our worlds before faced with imminent death?

- Tricia Ambrose

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