Monday, December 3, 2012

Book Review: I Married You for Happiness by Lily Tuck

I went into this book certain that it would be depressing, and I couldn't have been more wrong! You can't blame me though when you hear the premise. Nina's making dinner when her husband Philip comes home from work. When she calls him for dinner, she finds him on their bed, dead of an apparent cardiac arrest. The book takes place over that night, as she sits with his body, waiting for morning when she will call the doctor and their daughter and make all the arrangements. She spends the night remember all of the important moments of their relationship and marriage, some good and some bad.

The title itself should have been a clue, but I read it in an accusing tone when instead it should have just be a straightforward, factual tone. This is one problem with print. It's also a problem of my assumption. The vast majority of novels about marriage are about how bad it is. What makes this novel refreshing isn't that Nina and Philip didn't cheat on each other, didn't have secrets from each other, and didn't have regrets - because they did. The refreshment comes in that they didn't make those flaws the centerpiece of their marriage - they were low-drama people and they built around their problems instead of opening wounds and rubbing salt on them. And this book certainly is a strong argument for discernment over honesty.

Normally I'm not crazy about books that happen in one day (in fact this one is more like 8 hours) because they try to cram too many things into one day, but this book is the opposite. In fact, after Philip's death (which technically takes place before the book even begins but not by much), nothing happens. Nina drinks a bottle of wine and puts on a couple of jackets, but that's it. The real events of the novel take place over 40 years. I also am not a fan of no-quotation-marks dialogue, but again it makes sense, because Nina really isn't talking to anyone, she's just remembering conversations. It was confusing once or twice, but that was more due to a lack of dialogue tags than the lack of quotation marks.

In the end, I found the book somewhat optimistic, although I'd really call it more realistic with a happy ending. Not happy, in that Nina and Philip had planned to be together (and Philip had planned to be alive) much longer, but none of us get to choose when and how we die, and in the end Philip's life seems to have been overall happy, fulfilled. I am not entirely sure I understand the ending (which makes me happy that my second book club will be discussing this, tomorrow), and there were a lot of unexplained/untranslated French words and phrases, but that notwithstanding, I liked the book a lot, and it was short. If you're looking for something literary but not depressing or too taxing, this book is perfect.

I checked this book out of the library.

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