Two Novels on Complexity & Darkness in Marriage
I recently finished two novels that tackle - in unique and compelling ways - the topic of modern marriage: Fates and Furiesby Lauren Groff and Among the Ten Thousand Thingsby Julia Pierpont. Both books have been getting noteworthy buzz and now I understand why. Each offers a portrait of a marriage; neither is a fairy tale. Far from it.
If you look to fiction to escape the gritty aspects of life, the dark edges and sinister swirls, these books are not necessarily for you. But. If you are drawn to novels that delve into what is real and nuanced and complicated and sometimes very dark and depressing, read these stories. Each spoke to me for different reasons.
I found Fates compelling because of how Groff played (masterfully) with the question and conundrum of literary and existential perspective. In the first half of the book (Fates), we experience Lotto and Mathilde's marriage from Lotto's perspective. In the second half (Furies), we are treated to (and shaken by) Mathilde's startlingly different perspective of the same union. As someone who is married and ever-curious about the complexities of what marriage means and looks like, I found this setup to be fascinating and provocative. Questions we are left with: How much do we know the person to whom we are legally and emotionally tethered? Is it always better to share everything, to know everything or are secrets sometimes essential?
I found the opening of Things to be genius. I will avoid spoiling too much, but Pierpont yanks us readers in with a letter, a damning, life-changing letter about a husband's heretofore secret life. And the heartbreaking footnote: this letter ends up in the hands of his kids. What follows is an emotionally honest treatment of a marriage, and family, under tremendous pressure. I was amazed and heartened by Pierpont's choice to render her characters as unflinchingly human and feeling, rather than simply good and evil.
There were things I enjoyed about both books, interesting connections. Both authors infused their novels with a robust sexual thrum and I found this to be entirely appropriate and intriguing; in one story, sex is the glue and in other sex is the gash. Both authors highlight how having children - or not having them - can inform a marriage, strengthen it, shake it, muddy it. Both authors refuse to affix easy moral labels. Their characters are real and reeling; by turns in love and in pain.
I could go on about these books, but I will hold back and simply encourage you to read these stories if they sound interesting to you, if you savor glimpses of human life - and love - that are layered and not Hollywood bright. And I will now go and bury my nose in the next book I'm reading: The Art of Memoirby Mary Karr.
What are you reading these days?