Essential Reading: Marriage
This selection of titles mirrors how marriage varies from couple to couple. Poetry, novels, and nonfiction carry the theme from celebrating love to the intricacies of relationships to the practice of arranged marriage. Enjoy!
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Kate Haas, Creative Nonfiction Co-Editor, writes, “Lynne Sharon Schwartz’s Disturbances in the Field chronicles marriage and friendship among a group of women, but focuses mainly on pianist Lydia and her artist husband, Victor. When I read this novel in my early twenties, it felt like looking through a window into the secret lives of real grownups. Now that I’ve been married twelve years myself, I’m even more impressed by the way Schwartz chronicles the mundane and the tragic moments of her protagonists; the minor events and catchphrases that take on private meaning for a couple; the messy reality of life with kids, the way we learn to live with and forgive each other’s failings. Set in New York City over the course of the late fifties to the eighties, the novel powerfully evokes its time and place. But most of all, it’s an absorbing, thought-provoking read.”
Karen Murphy, Columnist writes, “To open Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni’s Arranged Marriage is to open a door into another world. These are stories of our contemporaries, but with one particular twist: these are the marriages of Indian immigrants, now living in the U.S. and who combine a sometimes perplexing, sometimes painful mix of cultures. The women in each spare yet deeply emotional story can’t escape their heritage, even while living abroad. I feel blessed and somehow more complete in my picture of what marriage is after reading these stories.”
Reviews Editor Vicki Forman writes, “Carol Shield’s Happenstance is one of my very favorite offbeat novels that plays with notions not only of love but also narrative. The subtitle is ‘Two Novels In One About a Marriage in Transition’ and yes, indeed, when you flip the book over you get each side of the story, told in upside down folio. A brave, funny and marvelous effort full of invention and just plain wonderful writing. If all you know is The Stone Diaries you are in for a real treat.”
Columnist Cassie Premo Steele shares an anthology of poetry about marriage called Proposing on the Brooklyn Bridge: Poems about Marriage, edited by Ginney Lowe Connors. “This is a beautiful book that moves from the beginnings of marriage through themes that aren’t usually dealt in such anthologies: the ambivalence of becoming parents, the need to be both together and apart as a couple moves through their lives, and the endings and partings of inevitable aging. I have a poem in it, as do Wendell Berry, Annie Finch, Dorianne Laux, Sharon Olds, and 100 more contemporary American poets.”
Kristina Riggle, Fiction Co-Editor, recommends Playing with the Moon by British writer Eliza Graham. “This book is many things — a literary mystery, a historical novel — but it’s also a study of a marriage in crisis over a wrenching loss. Can love really survive the worst life brings to us? This is one of the central questions of this compelling book, which was a finalist for World Book Day recognition.”
Caroline Grant, Editor-in-Chief and Columnist writes, “When Tony and I got engaged, a friend gave us a copy of Into The Garden: A Wedding Anthology: Poetry and Prose on Love and Marriage, edited by Robert Hass. We found lots of wonderful material to read, both as inspiration while we prepared for the day and to share with our family and friends at the ceremony, including this ancient Egyptian hymn, which reads in part: ‘[This love] is like a ripe pear in a man’s hand, it is like the dates we mix with wine, it is like the seeds the baker adds to bread. We will be together even when old age comes. And the days in between will be food set before us, dates and honey, bread and wine.'”
Irena Smith, Columns Editorial Assistant, shares, “I first fell under the spell of Henry James’s The Portrait of a Lady in an undergraduate English class and continue to be entranced by his depiction of Isabel Archer, an eternally optimistic, naive, innocent American girl abroad who makes a disastrous marriage to a man who seems at first to be sophisticated, cultured, and knowledgeable and gradually reveals himself to be manipulative, emotionally cruel, and duplicituous. How Isabel negotiates this newfound knowledge — her dawning realization that she has ‘imagined a world of things which had no substance’ — and the surprising choices she makes about her marriage form the heart of this brilliant novel. While there is not much drama by way of plot, the true drama lies in the inner lives of the characters, investing seemingly insignifcant actions — a sidelong glance, a man seated while a woman is standing — with weighty significance that makes this ostensibly slow-paced narrative read like a thriller.”