Two novellas that explore the art of marriage, specifically after one partner has cheated, make up this slim volume. The first part, entitled A Married Woman, focuses on Caroline, who is sitting by her comatose husband William's side in the hospital. He has been in a persistent vegetative state for days as Caroline keeps vigil, reflecting on their long marriage and William's affair with a friend of their adult daughter. Caroline waded her way back into her marriage but it never had the same complete and overpowering sense of wholeness, oneness, that it had before William's affair. And as she sits at William's bedside waiting for him to die, she refects back on the pain and struggle of surviving betrayal and surviving the brutal reconciliation. In the second novella, entitled A Married Man, Fleming takes the flipside's view and presents the story of Marcia and David's struggle to maintain their marriage in view of Marcia's affair. Rather than facing the end of life, they are the parents of young children, trying to maintain a good face for the neighbors (all of whom know about the affair anyway), and to let go of the anger and bitterness and alienation each feels. They go to see a marital therapist who has become famous by counseling others after affairs, as he himself worked through an affair and reconciled with his wife. Much of the second novella is centered on David's feelings and the way that he cannot help the petty digs and snide comments that make him feel a small sense of control over his clearly guilty but slightly less than repentant wife and this marriage gone so off track.
Taylor has drawn characters who are clearly the wronged partners in their relationships but who aren't certain they can battle back to whatever intangible it is that makes maintaining a marriage worth the time and effort and emotional comnmitment. She has showcased the desire for revenge, the inability to forget even if forgiveness is offered, and the rupture that occurs in the case of infidelity. This is not an easy emotional read, with characters so raw and damaged. And her view of marriage, at least the marriages in these stories, is far from positive. But the complexity of each marriage and how infidelities changed the stories of the marriages is well drawn and cutting. Her writing highlights harsh truths and challenges the reader to delve deeper into the surface of conventional looking marriages, to see into the murky depths and to really experience the hard disconnects just under the surface.
This is a hard book to pin down with a tepid, I liked it or I didn't like it. It made me uncomfortable and certainly made me examine what I think are the truths of my own marriage, both the truths others see and the truths we live every day. I didn't love the characters, so wrapped up in their own senses of betrayal that they couldn't come across as terribly sympathetic but I understand why she's drawn them the way she has. I felt pity and scorn for them but never really connected with them or liked them, tiring of the all-consuming focus on their partners' affairs. But I think this is probably true to the interior lives of the wronged partner in a marriage so Fleming has created what she intended with these two well-written novellas. If you want to read about train wrecks, this tough little book will suit perfectly.