Friday, May 4, 2012

The Conundrum of Marriage

Last Sunday there was a cover story about the actor Samuel L. Jackson in the NY Times Magazine. Don mentioned that Mr. Jackson and his wife had been married for 40 years and, when asked about their secret to longevity, she quipped "amnesia." We got a kick out of that but the more I mulled it over the more I recognized the brilliance of her pronouncement. What a lovely way of saying that they've learned to let things go.

I have more to say on that subject later but this does lead me to the book that I was beginning last week, a novel by Lily Tuck called I Married You for Happiness. I'm not even so sure that it can be called a novel, more of a reminiscence, and one that I surmise is pretty close to the bone for Ms. Tuck.

 A man named Philip walks in from work, just another ordinary day, sniffs the emanations from the kitchen, and apologizing to his wife, heads upstairs for just a quick snooze before the pleasant evening ahead. Except that, of course, for Philip there will be no more evenings of good wine and conversation. A sudden heart attack sees to that.

"She," is the narrator. Nina, Philip's wife, unable to let him go quite yet, curls up next to him in bed and throughout the evening and into the dark hours of the early morning enthralls us with the vignettes she recalls, the perfect snapshots of a marriage steeped in love, companionship, jealousy, friendship, compassion, truths, lies, resentment and respect.

We spend time with Nina and Philip throughout their courtship in Paris where she's an artist, he a mathematician. She's wary, he pursues. A child is born, there are suspicions of affairs. Philip can be arrogant, as professors often are. Nina seems aloof, an observer in her own life. Their marriage endures, is strong, is happy. Why? Amnesia. Neither one caves in to the soul deadening game of oneupsmanship, the tit for tat that is horrible to watch and must be worse to live through.

Long marriages are miraculous, the odds are against them. There is no shame in giving up. Couples grow apart more often than not. A dear friend once told me that she often wondered if she was still in her 40 year marriage because she was too lazy to walk away. Some hurts may be unforgiveable to one person yet completely forgettable to another. Some of us can walk away unscathed, others stay but suffer. For Nina and Philip, like Joan Didion and John Dunne (The Year of Magical Thinking), the joy remained.

 If you've been long married or hope to be one day, do pick up a copy of Lily Tuck's beautifully rendered paeon to love. Ms. Tuck was nominated for a PEN/Faulkner award and is a past winner of the National Book Award, so you know that you'll be getting a finely crafted, sensitively written window into the soul of a long term relationship.

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