Sunday, August 1, 2010

Relationships are no easy thing!

I have been crabbing quite vocally lately about the dearth of intelligent movies that come to southwest Florida. Getting the New York Times on the weekend is only serving to frustrate me as I am teased by the reviews of all these wonderfully bright, controversial films, starring brave award-winning actors that won't ever see their way clear to Regal Cinemas in Ft. Myers. Is it any wonder the Netflix and our own library system are putting these theatres out of business?

Finally, after showing around the country for six weeks now, we got The Kids are All Right - English majors - shouldn't it be "alright?" My friend Donna and I went to see it yesterday and kudos to the film as it was the catalyst for a 6 hour conversation on relationships, marriage (whether it be between a man and a woman, two men, two women) and the difficulty of sustaining long term coupledom in this day and age of longer and longer lives. Were we meant to be together for 30, 40 or 50 years?

It's difficult to believe in a "higher power" who had a grand plan in mind when you think that he/she didn't foresee our living to such ripe old ages. Just returning to biblical times one can figure that a couple married at the age of 12 or 13, stayed together to raise their children to a similar age and then died off. So what's the longest they were together? Fifteen years maybe?

Think about the person you were at 18, then 30, 45 - 50, and now. Is it an unrealistic expectation to think that two people can grow at the same speed, toward the same goal, keeping love and attraction and respect intact throughout the aging process? This question has been bandied about quite a bit lately in light of the shocking news of the Al Gores' divorce but I've been pondering it for years. I can honestly say that, off the top of my head, I can only think of two couples I know who have managed to go past the forty years together mark and still prefer to be with each other than with anyone else. Oh yes, Alan and Sharon, Cathy and Hank, I do envy you.

The movie did an outstanding job of showing a lesbian couple in a long term marriage, raising two teenagers who share the same male sperm from a donor bank in California, as they try to navigate all the relational pitfalls of any heterosexual couple; a flagging sex life, disputes over power, who handles the money, who does the cooking, who's too easy on the kids, etc. They have traditional roles, the incomparable Annette Bening is a physician and the main breadwinner, her partner Julianne Moore has been the stay at home earth mother type whose latest venture is as a landscape architect.

Their performances were brave and heartfelt to the point where I did not see them as two female actors playing lesbians but felt that they were, indeed, a couple. In one amazing scene at a dinner table there is an incredibly long closeup of Ms. Bening sans makeup as she undergoes a devastating realization. The emotion plays across her face, crow's feet at her eyes, character lines around the mouth, a neck that looks like it belongs to a real woman and not a doctored version of one. It made me so proud to be a "woman of a certain age."

And it brings me to a look at a book I'm just finishing, another one that I had the good fortune to pick up back at the Public Library Assoc. conference in Portland. The Red Thread by Ann Hood is, on the surface, a book about adoption, in particular, adoption of Chinese female babies by American families. It's all there and lovingly told, the anguish of the Chinese mothers forced by family or circumstance or the government to give up their "unimportant" girl children and how these babies find their way to the waiting arms of women here in the states who long for a baby of their own.

But more than this, Ms. Hood has written a terrifying novel about relationships; the reasons couples are brought together, the reasons they part, the tragic inability of men and women to communicate about their deepest hopes and desires; the little deceptions that drive a chink into the foundation of even the happiest couples and the way they often tend to be working against each other, sometimes deliberately but at other times completely unwittingly.

Ms. Hood has created a wonderful character in Maya Lange, the owner of The Red Thread Adoption Agency, and the person who heals the emptiness in her heart caused by the loss of her own baby daughter to a tragic accident, by filling the need for a baby in others' hearts. Maya is as masterful at dealing with the various personalities of the prospective parents, their fear, insecurity and troubles, as she is with subsuming her own.

Even though I'm devastated by the couples I'm meeting in this novel, I care about them and want to keep reading to see how they will work through their relationships, or not. The writing is beautiful, the pacing quick and if you had no distractions you could finish this in a day.  I gather from the author's note at the end of the book that she is writing from the heart and has been to the emotional places she describes. I've not read Ann Hood before. If you haven't either, you might want to give this one a try.


Anonymous said...

You forgot about Paul and I...going on 42 years!

Sallyb said...

You're so right and I remembered it in the middle of the night the other night and didn't get back here to add you guys. You should have been tops on the list!