I've been reading a lot the past few months. I've only had one class this summer, and the boys are older and less interested in hanging out with me, and so…reading, reading, reading. Saturday afternoon, while David was out running errands, I read Jenny Offill's Dept. of Speculation, and when he came home, he was like, "oh no." The book is fast, sharp, spare, and there were stretches when I felt absolutely gutted by it. "It's like the story of a marriage," I was telling David, "and then they have a kid, and their lives get very small, and he has this job he hates…" David grimaced and put his hand up at this point and said, "yeah, you can stop there," which is another way of saying that the book is very true.
Last week, I read another novel that touched on a marriage of about the same length--close to a decade in with a child--and while the novel was much more expansive and plot-driven, what I kept coming back to was the relationship between the protagonist and her husband. I don't think it was intentionally painted as a toxic relationship (which, obviously, I'd be into), but it was super passionate. Lots of fighting and walking out on each other and making up. And the sex, wow! None of it was just your run-of-the-mill well it is Tuesday… sex. It was all very emotionally significant. All very let's look each other in the eyes because it's like our souls are touching sex, which is to say that it was very much what I imagined marriage would look like when I was say, 15. As someone who's now been married 15 years, it just seemed really exhausting. I kept waiting for them to settle the fuck down and eat some cereal or something.
I guess what bothered me was that it read like a deeply immature understanding of love and not in a way that I felt like the author was showing us characters with a deeply immature understanding of love. More that the author really had no idea what love looks like way, way down the road. Like 10 years in, no one's staying up all night to talk about their hopes and their dreams and their feelings. (Actually, David and I still do have these talks, but they're more like I hope we get five more years out of this roof, or I feel like you need to go somewhere else right now.)
So what I loved about Offill's book is that it's hard in the way marriage is hard, which is in all the ways that aren't particularly exciting, the I wonder if there's something better out there ways, the why doesn't this relationship look the way I imagined back when I was 15 ways (because, of course, everything in the culture backs up that expectation).
Like I said, it's a short, intense book. By the time David came home, I felt like our marriage had been taken to the brink and back, and I was so relieved to see him. Also, he had crickets for the boys' pet lizard. Keeping the things that live in our house alive is pretty much the definition of what love looks like way, way down the road.