I am a member of the Women's National Book Association. Here in the Charlotte chapter, we have been tossing around the idea of starting a book club for some time now but we weren't sure exactly how we'd go about it and what we'd read. And then I thought about the fact that we as a national organization create a list of Great Group Reads for October's National Reading Group month. Yup. We had a pre-selected list of books that should be ideal for reading groups all year long. And so our new book club was born, one focused solely on the list of Great Group Reads. The first book the newly formed group chose to read was Lily Tuck's I Married You For Happiness, a rumination on the nature of marriage, loss, and love.
Just before the novel starts, Philip has come home from his job as a college math professor, gone upstairs to change before dinner, and died of an apparent heart attack. And so the story opens with Nina, his wife of 43 years, holding his cooling hand in their bedroom as she spends one last night beside her husband and remembering their life together. A final goodbye before the realities of death and its attendant needs take over. Taking place over the next eight hours, Nina's thoughts flit through her memories of their long marriage, the good times and the bad, the significant and the insignificant, the known and the unknown. She recalls the story of their marriage in all its banality and its uniqueness. Her memories come in flashes, a sort of chronological chaos, perhaps reflective of sudden bereavement and the reader can't necessarily place when in their life together each separate incident occurred. She gives a voice to Philip through her memories of his erudite lectures on probability and philosophy. As she muses on their life, there are reminders of the passing of the night as well, with nocturnal sounds, the knowledge of their congealing dinner on the table, her donning the red jacket Philip once gave her as a gift that she seldom wore, the lowering level of the wine bottle beside the bed.
The writing here is spare and yet beautiful. In many ways, as Nina tells her version of their marriage, there is a frozen remoteness to the tale and she doesn't shy away from her own petty jealousies and revenges even if she tells of them in the emotional vaccuum of shock. The acknowledgment of marriage as between two people but influenced by others and always flawed is clear here. But this acknowledgment doesn't preclude the contentment or overall quiet happiness of the couple, no matter what the intrusions of others, even including infidelities. This is not a novel about the vibrant joy of the newly-wed but about the sustaining peace of enduring love. It is a brief, affecting novel, very literary and eminently discussable for book clubs.