Is it shallow of me to admit that I was first attracted to this book by the simply gorgeous cover? I hope not given that Metz is a graphic designer who designed her own book cover. The exposed stamen and pistil against the blood red tulip petals turn out to be very evocative of the book itself, subtitled "A Memoir of Betrayal and Renewal." The story of Metz's marriage and discovery of her husband's infidelities after his unexpected death, this is indeed Metz's life laid open to scrutiny.
Opening with husband Henry's death from a pulmonary embolism, the reader follows Metz as she wades through the fog of sudden widowhood and learning to parent a young child alone. She puts off dealing with the realities of having lost the husband she loved so deeply, instead trying to reach for life and vibrancy. This works until she is ready to tackle Henry's life, when she is drawn up short, discovering that he was a serial cheater, having had numerous affairs throughout their marriage. As she works through her rage at this discovery, she discovers something even more damaging. Henry's longest standing affair was with a friend of Metz's and the mother of their daughter's best friend. Six months after Henry's death, still processing the demise of her husband and the marriage she clearly didn't know as well as she thought she did, she must also face this betrayal by a close friend. She searches out as many of Henry's former mistresses as she can, wanting to understand her own marriage through the lens of their relationships with her lost boy husband.
Metz is brutally honest about her reactions to news of Henry's infidelities and she doesn't sugar coat her feelings about the women, especially her former friend, who chose to take Henry into their beds. She rages and screams and acts out and starts to understand what made Henry who he was. In several surprising cases, not only does she reach out to these former mistresses, but she comes to actually like them, developing a sort of friendly relationship with them herself. She doesn't absolve Henry of his wrongs nor does she absolve the women, but her seeking and ultimate forgiveness are necessary for her to move on in her life.
This memoir is raw and moving and loaded with uncomfortable feeling but it is all the more powerful for that. There is no sense that Metz has downplayed events to make herself look better, just a sense of forthrightness and honesty. There were definitely parts that left me uncomfortable with Metz's choices (her affair with a friend soon after Henry's death being one instance) but without having experienced not only the loss of a spouse but the loss of everything that was once believed to be true of my life makes it harder for me to judge her actions. This reads like the best stories: unexpected and fascinating and it is only when you stop to remember that this is someone's life, and lived painfully at that, that you feel a sense of guilt for being so caught up in the twists and turns. But you will find yourself caught up in both the carnage and the renewal. A wonderful, fast-reading, completely engrossing find for this memoir fan.