Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Husband and Wife by Leah Stewart

I'm still trying to wrap my head around my true feelings about this novel. It was engrossing and artful and filled with well-drawn characters and conflict and thought-provoking dialogue and realness. It had texture. I see why Stewart has been recognized for her talent. Her writing is authentic and real and filled with texture and it is so incredibly meta. Here is a book about a woman who discovers her husband, a novelist about to publish a book titled Infidelity has cheated on her. The two met in an MFA program in Austin, where they lived a life with time to discuss the use of the word the, the value of poetry, all of their favorite authors. They lived in a suspended adolescence, and now years later, they are married with children. Sarah, the wife, is no longer a working poet but a cubicle dweller trying to provide her family with health insurance and stability. There is so very much going on in this novel, but its hard not to get drawn into the meta-analysis: a female novelist is writing a story about a male novelist and the aftermath of his story and his actions. How does art reflect life? What does one's writing say about their own thoughts? Can two writers support their family without a more stable job? While part of me was drawn into the story behind the story (how does any of this reflect Stewart's own experiences?), I found myself detached from the narrator's pain. I found myself detached when she fell apart and talked about wanting her husband to die in front of her young children. I understood that many of her reactions were real, and I didn't question her humanity, but it was easier to want to look away. I sympathized for Sarah, and felt anguish on her behalf. I found her husband's actions confusing. But I wished some of her friends would have stepped in and provided a different perspective. It was interesting to watch couple friends support both Sarah and Nathan.

The ending leaves so much up in the air, and I understand why. It makes sense as a stylistic choice. But I found myself yearning for more closure.

This novel is so very different than what it seems when one sees the title, studies the cover and reads the blurb. It is more complicated than simply a story of a man who cheats and his wife's reactions. It is about the complexities of love. We don't see attempts at forgiveness as much as we see love continue until anger bubbles to the surface. We see destructive action and complicated choices. We see that in this relationship each individual has played a role, and these roles have lead to dissatisfaction and a search for more.

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