An American Marriage by Tayari Jones (2017)

an american marriage

“But home isn’t where you land; home is where you launch.” 4

Celestial Davenport and Roy Hamilton are newlyweds, living in Atlanta and on the cusp of an exciting life. Part of the city’s African-American upper-class, Celestial is an artist whose work is starting to get noticed, and Roy is an energetic, entrepreneurial man who believes he knows how to make her a success.  While their marriage is passionate, it is also not always solid: Roy struggles to let go of his playboy past, and Celestial resists starting a family, worried if Roy strays she will end up a single mother…a stereotype she refuses to become.

While traveling from Atlanta to Roy’s hometown in rural Louisiana, the couple — perhaps with a sense of supernatural premonition — fights about the differences in their upbringing and whether or not those differences are causing problems between them. Roy and his family fought long and hard to get him out of their small town and into Spelman. Roy sees his material success as fragile and feels compelled to demonstrate their wealth in order to make it seem real. Celestial was raised in Atlanta with professional parents who are millionaires; she does not feel she has as much to prove and often bristles at Roy’s need for “flash.”

While in Roy’s small Louisiana home town, Roy is accused of the rape of a white woman and thrown in jail. Celestial’s protests that she was with Roy the entire night and he is innocent fall of deaf ears. The police, judge, and jury see a black man and nothing else. His race, not his actions, determine his guilt. Roy is found guilty and sentenced to 12-years in prison.

Shocked and terrified, the couple clings to hope that this miscarriage of justice will be reversed, but they are wrong. Not one single person in the system cares if Roy is innocent.

“Sleeping by myself didn’t kill me then and will not kill me now. But this is what loss has taught me of love. Our house isn’t simply empty, our home has been emptied. Love makes a place in your life, it makes a place in your bed. Invisibly, it makes a place in your body, rerouting all of your blood vessels, throbbing right alongside your heart. When it’s gone, nothing is whole again. ” 41

In the early days of his incarceration, Celestial and Roy fight for his release and remain committed to saving him. Soon, however, their marriage begins to show cracks. Celestial is weighted down with this enormous grief and worries she cannot cope. “Their is still rice in my hair,” she laments. Roy needs so much from her — reassurance, love, money, attention, visits — and she is overwhelmed by the demands of this new reality. The magic and passion of their marriage fades from her mind, replaced only by the horrific reality of her husband being in jail.

“The chilly hindsight is what exposes the how and why of something that once seemed supernatural. It’s the magician’s manual that shows you how the tricks are done, not with sorcery but with careful cues and mysterious devices.” 111

As Roy’s life grows bleaker and bleaker, Celestial’s star rises. Her art begins to get noticed, her shop (which Roy once envisioned) thrives, and her heart strays to another man.

Then, in the days before Christmas, Roy’s appeal is granted, his conviction overturned and he is coming home. Stripped of everything: his future, his money, his career, his dignity, and five years of his life; Roy has only Celestial. But their marriage has been only one of fact for so long, the reality is that his wife has moved on without him and he is terrified that he will find their is no longer room for him in her life.

Jones has crafted a beautiful, haunting, complex tale that explores the challenges of modern African-American’s in America face as well as the challenges of a marriage tested before it is ready. A truly outstanding novel, as gorgeous as it is eye-opening.

“Yesterday I sat under the hickory tree in the front yard. It’s the only place where I find rest and just feel fine. I know fine isn’t a lot, but it’s rare for me these days. Even when I am happy, there is something in between me and whatever good news comes my way. It’s like eating a butterscotch still sealed in the wrapper. The tree is untouched by whatever worries we humans fret over. I think about how it was here before I was born and it will be here after we’re all gone. Maybe this should make me sad, but it doesn’t.” 80

 

Advertisements

The Wife Between Us (2017)

The Wife Between Us by Greer Hendricks and Sarah Pekkanen

In this brand-new thriller, the authors create a complex tale about one woman’s desperate attempts to find security and happiness after a troubled adolescence. She deeply believes she has found the safety and love she craves when she marries Richard…but she is wrong.

Two different narrators lay out the story of Nellie and Richard. Neither of these narrators is telling readers the whole truth and so the picture of this not-so-perfect marriage takes quite a while to come into focus. Are they happy? Or are they not? Is his desire to control their relationship the problem? Or is her alcoholism and mental health to blame?

Alternating between past and present, our narrators try to show you what happened and why but it becomes clear that the story is very complicated and therefore the telling of it must be as well. Twists and turns populate nearly every chapter, right up until the very last page; making the reader feel on edge every step of the way.

The Last Mrs. Parrish by Liv Constantine (2017)

last mrs parrish

Amber Patterson may seem unassuming and naive, a young girl who is out of her depths living among the super-rich residents on Bishops Harbor, Connecticut; but she is not. Behind the plain clothes and subservient demeanor is a scheming, ambitious woman who will do just about anything to become the wife one of the town’s super-rich men. Her target is the wealthiest of them all: Jackson Parrish.

The only problem is that Jackson Parrish is already happily married to a gorgeous and smart woman named Daphne. Amber decides winning Jackson’s temporary attention is not enough, she wants to become his second wife. In order to do that, she must implement a complex plan that will allow her to befriend Daphne, grow close to the family, and try to worm her way into Jackson’s heart from his inner circle.

As her plan is set into motion, Amber is thrilled to find that Daphne accepts her with ease and soon she is almost a part of the family. With skill and ease, she manipulates Daphne time and again, each move bringing her closer and closer to Jackson.

But Daphne has a secret of her own, her life — while lavish and filled with glamour — is not the fairy-tale it appears from the outside. Amber, blinded by greed and lust, misses all of the warning signs and positions herself to take over a life she knows nothing about.

The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work by John Gottman & Nan Silver (1999)

7+Principles

My husband and I married seventeen years ago, when we were just 22-years-old. We  both have always placed a high value on the quality of our marriage and we never shy away from examining our relationship to find ways to improve it. We still talk with great regularity about the highs and lows of our day-to-day life and seek out advice and ideas — such as those in Seven Principles — for making our marriage even stronger. Although this book is nearly 20 years old, the straight-forward strategies outlined in it are still as insightful and relevant as ever, largely because they are simple but effective.

Gottman & Silver do not argue that marriage should be without conflict, and they do not  think that fighting or complaining is necessarily detrimental to the overall health of a marriage. Rather, they argue, that having and handling conflicts– when they inevitably arise — in healthy ways can prevent long-lasting damage to the relationship.

Over the course of the relationship, the key is to build up the “balance of your emotional bank account…learning to turn toward each other, rather than away, can serve as a cushion when times get rough.” (80) How do couples learn to “lean into” their relationship? How do they make sure their are building a resilient marriage? They treat each other well.

Every day, thousands of times each day, a couple has a chance to strengthen their relationship: by valuing each other’s friendship; by taking an active role in each other’s lives; in setting and striving for common goals; by supporting each other in large and small ways; by recognizing the things that are important to the person you love; and by showing your partner that you value and treasure them.

That advice may seem simple…because it is. Taking care of the best parts of your marriage will “shore you up,” so when life gets challenging — a lost job, a new baby, an illness — your marriage already healthy and strong and able to weather the storm. And by downplaying the bad parts of your marriage (everyone has them) you do not let small resentments and petty grievances distract you from the common goal of having a long and happy relationship.

In the early chapters, the book details the things couples in trouble do and contrasts those with helpful things healthy couples do; to give readers a sense of how any situation can be steered in a positive way, easing the stress it puts on the couple. The latter parts of the book introduce the titular Seven Principles that any couple — faltering or strong — can implement to improve their marriage.

Making an effort to keep your marriage strong is one of the most important investments most of us will ever make in our lifetimes and it is worth a refresher course now and then to keep us on the right track. This book — like my husband — is a absolute gem!

Hourglass: Time, Memory, Marriage by Dani Shapiro (2017)

It could have happened.
It had to happen.
It happened earlier. Later.
Nearer. Farther off.
It happened, but not to you.
You were saved because you were the first.
You were saved because you were the last.
Alone. With others.
On the right. The left.
Because it was raining. Because of the shade.
Because the day was sunny.

You were in luck — there was a forest.
You were in luck — there were no trees.
You were in luck — a rake, a hook, a beam, a brake,
A jamb, a turn, a quarter-inch, an instant . . .

From “Could Have” by Wislawa Szymborska (quoted on page 18-19)

This beautiful, brief memoir is about marriage: not the heady reckless days of being newlyweds, nor about looking back from a distance at the long years of children and grandchildren, but rather about the middle years of a marriage. The years of a marriage that are marked by mortgages, teenagers, and adult responsibilities; the years when routines speed up time and parents grow frail, the years when a couple must work to recall the wild love of their early days and work to keep their bond strong so they can reach those golden years. Hourglass — told in a Virginia Woolf-inspired style — a is spectacular exploration of the special, fragile time that marks middle marriage and how rewarding and challenging a time it can be for a couple.

Shapiro examines her own marriage with honesty and courage; displaying the things she gets right and the things that go wrong. A deep, almost desperate, vulnerability is required to make a marriage work. Two people bind themselves together when things are the very best, in the hope that things will always be rosy, always go as well. But then life happens — illnesses, lost jobs, deaths, births, near-misses, and lost chances — and you must hope that the strength of your love and your commitment to one another can weather these storms; that you can go on believing in the happy ending even when the future is a complete unknown.

Shapiro also examines the choices she and her husband did and did not make —  each corner not turned, every job not taken — and wonders, would other choices have led to a different me? a different him? a different us? Marriage, she believes, is living with each and every choice you’ve made and knowing that each step has brought you to where you are right now; marriage is having faith that this place is the right place to be.

Upon finishing the book I am struck by how wildly optimistic getting married really is. Two people make a commitment (that no matter how easily made, one that is very difficult to undo) and set out to build a life with no guarantees, with no safety nets. Your marriage requires that everyday — many times each day — you must look upon your relationship as meaningful and worthwhile, something as important and valuable today as it was on your wedding day.

Middle marriage are the years when you hold on to one another tightly, hoping wildly that the best years are still yet to come, and still believing there is no one else you would want beside you than your partner. What a wild leap of faith to take! What a wonderful treasure when you find yourself alongside someone worth taking that risk with.

— To my Husband, S. who I adore now as much as then

 

The Light Between Oceans by M. L. Stedman (2012)

CAVEAT: If you have suffered from a miscarriage, stillbirth, or the death of a child, I would strongly suggest that you not read this book. While well-written and deeply insightful, the descriptions of these issues is very frank, detailed, and emotionally fraught.

Janus Rock Austrailia

Janus Rock Lighthouse, Western Austrailia

NOTE: This post may have some spoilers, and although I have tried my best to limit my plot details that are revealed early on in the novel or on the book jacket, if you prefer to be completely surprised, you might not want to read on.

After serving in the trenches of Europe during World War I, surrounded by bloodshed and misery for years, Tom returns home to Australia hoping to live a quiet life far from the muddy battlefields and memories of the men he watched die. He takes a position as a lighthouse keeper and finds the simple life a great source of contentment. When he is offered a position at one of Australia’s most remote and dangerous islands, he accepts without hesitation. On Janus Rock, Tom finds that the space, solitude, and connection to the the rhythms of nature quiet his mind and bring him peace.

When he returns to the mainland for a break, he meets and falls for Isabel. Isabel is young, gorgeous, and vivacious and Tom feels like he has come back to life when he is with her. The two marry within the year and Isabel comes to live on Janus Rock. Just as Tom did before her, Isabel falls in love with the island and the freedom it offers the newlyweds.

Isabel’s dreams of becoming a mother look like they have come true when she gets pregnant, but a terrible miscarriage claims that baby early on. A second pregnancy ends the same. Terrified, Isabel finds she is pregnant a third time and she and Tom slowly, slowly begin to trust that their dreams of family will finally come true. Each day the couple grows more and more excited to welcome their baby.

Isabel’s heartaches have just begun. The third baby is born stillborn and Isabel’s  succumbs to a dangerous depression. Isabel’s anguish and Tom’s helplessness over her heartache are so acute, Tom is ready to radio the shore for a boat to take Isabel home to her parents. He is preempted by the arrival of a boat, washed ashore after a storm containing a dead man and an infant baby girl. Although it seems inevitable to readers, Tom is shocked when Isabel tells him the baby was sent to her by God and she intends to keep the baby and raise her as her own.

The author’s portrayal of Tom and Isabel’s love is tender, deeply romantic, and almost magical; and the excitement they feel about becoming parents rings so true that readers cannot help but swept up in the story.  And so, it follows that the gut-wrenching pain they feel at the loss of all three babies is also rings absolutely true for readers, especially their stillborn son.

What follows is a beautifully written story of how Tom and Isabel move through the next five years of their lives. The author chronicles the lies they tell themselves and the world, the secrets they keep, and the rift is causes in their marriage; but also, the intense joy and happiness as their “daughter” Lucy becomes the center of their lives and heals Isabel.

As the years pass, Isabel is convinced of their secret will go undiscovered forever. Tom, however, feels the pressure of their lies and soon things begin to unravel. Told from Isabel and Tom’s point of view for the early chapters; as the story widens we begin to hear from Isabel’s parents, Lucy’s birth mother, and other members of the community and soon we see that Isabel’s and Tom’s decision ripples outward and impacts so, so many lives.