Monday, August 13, 2012

"The Forever Marriage," by Ann Bauer

I know I sounded a little crabby when I wrote about “The Kissing List,” “Seating Arrangements,” and a couple of other books recently, and now I am going to be crabby again, this time about “The Forever Marriage” (The Overlook Press, 2012), by Ann Bauer. It is hard to warm to a novel that starts with a wife’s being happy when her husband dies of cancer. Not happy because he is no longer in pain, but happy because she is finally released from a marriage of 22 years in which she has been disappointed from the very beginning. Carmen knows and fully admits that Jobe is a good man, but she has never been in love with him, and their love and sex life has been tepid and unsatisfying for her. She married him because she felt grateful to him, and sorry for him, and because she felt grateful to his mother (I know, this reason is strange, but true in this story), and because he had the money that would allow them a comfortable life. She did her duty as a wife and mother, and took good care of him in his illness, but did have affairs. Although it is clear that the marriage was unhappy, one still does not feel comfortable rooting for a character such as Carmen. Yet it slowly becomes clear that Carmen is not a bad person, and that there is more to the story than it seems. The tone of the book is an odd tension between the wrong and even -- seemingly -- despicable, and on the other hand, the heartwarming. This would be unsettling in a good way if the book were better, but as it stands, it just seems a bit artificial. There is a subplot about Jobe’s being a genius mathematician, and about what will happen to his ideas and discoveries in that area; this subplot is mildly interesting but seems tacked on, especially as it brings us to a sort of false-feeling closure at the end of the novel.

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