03 April 2012

I married you for happiness, by Lily Tuck

I will not go so far as to say that I hated this book, but I came close. About halfway through I was going to quit, but I ended up skimming the rest - which is easy to do; the book is basically a series of loosely connected paragraphs, not even scenes, more like moments. The overall premise is that a man dies and his wife is lying in bed next to him, remembering their life together. Her memories are so cliche and predictable that you can easily skim them without missing much. Actually, come to think of it, that's not right - the memories themselves are somewhat predictable (affair, abortion, their first meeting, their proposal), what makes them seem totally cliche is the writing style. The writing is atrocious.

How do I describe it? Perhaps a few sample sentences will demonstrate:

It must be late, she decides.
She needs to get more wine. This time she will bring the bottle back upstairs.
He won't mind, she thinks.


He claims to know a member of her family who is distantly related to him by marriage.
At the time, she does not believe him.
A line, she thinks.


Linda, she whispers.
Linda, she says a little bit louder.
There is no answer.

I suspect it's the line breaks that I find so infuriating. The portentous pause of pseudo-profundity. Every other paragraph ends like this. Perhaps it is meant to evoke the pace of scattered, semi-articulate reminiscence, but I find it incredibly irritating.

I found it even more obnoxious, I think, because I was really annoyed by the the aspect of the book that had originally inspired my interest in it, namely, the bits of math (the husband is a mathematician). The book features all the standard cliches one finds in works that are designed to persuade someone that math can be beautiful. They are scattered throughout (as is everything in the book), and always feel like a crude attempt at some kind of grander meaning. Nothing about their context or the way they are presented adds anything to their interest or beauty.

To be totally fair, there were some paragraphs that I liked. Maybe as many as 20% of the book, though that's a very generous estimate. Some of the sex scenes were nice. Were I in a more generous mood, I might praise the book for its portrayal of a relationship that isn't especially idealized. At the same time though, there's a part of me that is annoyed by how unoriginal the overall narrative seems (especially in contrast to Tokyo Fiancée, a strikingly original story of a relationship that I read right before this, and which I'll post about momentarily). I resent the way the that this book seems to conform to a pattern of narrativizing love that I find, overall, bland.

The problem, and difficulty, of portraying relationships with problems is that the problems are often someone's fault, and it's hard not to blame that someone. Or to wonder if the two of them wouldn't be better off apart. Its difficult to tell the story without devolving into the stock tropes of love gone sour. Jumping around in time is a potential solution, as is not delving too deeply into any one moment, just sort of skimming the surface for a bird's eye view of the thing, but what you're left with, in this case, is a rather wan portrayal of a vaguely annoying woman and a husband who remains somewhat opaque, simultaneously idealized and under-appreciated.

No comments: