All The Books I Can Read

1 girl….2 many books!

Husband & Wife – Leah Stewart

on December 29, 2010

Sarah is 35 years old, married to Nathan and has two children, aged 3 and 5 months. She works full time supporting her husband, a writer. Nathan had a $50,000 advance for his latest book, named Infedelity and just as the proofs arrive, when Sarah is getting ready to go to the wedding of two of their friends, Nathan sits her down and tells her that Infidelity is not exactly fiction. Over a year ago at a writers conference, Nathan cheated on Sarah with another writer there and he used this experience to write the novel – which his agent assures them is going to be ‘the big one’.

Sarah is wiped out by the admission but she still manages to collect herself together enough to prop Nathan up and get them both to the wedding, and through the duet-style speech/toast they have to give, as close friends of the couple. Having confessed his sin, it seems that Nathan just falls apart waiting for Sarah to decide their future and he swears that he will not publish the book if that is what she wants. He swears he still loves her, that it was just a drunken indiscretion and that he wants to be with her alone but Sarah has trouble believing this, knowing that deep down, there must be some sort of dissatisfaction for Nathan within their marriage that would compel him to do such a thing.

At first Sarah wants to work things out but then she asks Nathan to leave and he promptly disappears off the face of the Earth for days, leaving Sarah struggling to find childcare for the children so that she can go to work. As she learns more – like the fact that the writer Nathan had an affair with is coming to do a reading in their town, on a weekend Nathan had urged her to go out of town – she takes off back to where she used to live, which is a 2 day drive. Armed with her two children, she turns up in Austin, on the doorstep of her former housemate, Helen, seeking to reclaim a little of her younger self.

Before having children, Sarah was a poet. She wrote poems, something she admits that she hasn’t worked on since the children were born. Being now the sole consistent breadwinner and also a mother, she finds little time to devote to her writing now. There’s also the lure of Rajiv to soothe her wounded ego – Rajiv the film director, impossibly beautiful, who admits to having carried a torch for Sarah for many years – to being ‘a little bit in love with her’.

In Austin Sarah enjoys reconnecting with Helen (also a poet) and learns that she might have to force herself to make time to devote to writing, like Helen does, even if it is terribly self indulgent. She spends time with Rajiv, who makes it more than clear how he still feels about her, even with her baggage now of two kids 3 and under. When Nathan suddenly arrives in Austin, she has to decide their future, what she has been putting off.

I liked this book in the beginning. I thought that Sarah’s reaction to Nathan’s confession was quite realistic – she can’t afford to meltdown just yet, she knows she has an important wedding to go to. She struggles to get through that day despite her anguish. Nathan seems overcome with remorse and I thought this might be a really interesting novel on the mechanics of rebuilding a relationship (or severing it) after an instance of infidelity.

For me, the novel went southward when Sarah asked Nathan to leave. He takes off for days, with no contact, doesn’t answer his phone, doesn’t let her know he’s okay, doesn’t ask after their children, despite him being the primary stay at home parent, an arrangement that was worked out for him so that he had time to write. When a couple split up, the parental responsibility doesn’t stop for the parent who leaves the marital home – and so often people are used to the woman being the primary caregiver. I thought it was a very selfish move on the character of Nathan’s part to completely abandon the children, even if it was only temporarily. He was the one who had done wrong in the marriage, he wasn’t the injured party running off to lick his wounds.

Not that Sarah covered herself in glory either. I’ve never been a fan of an ‘eye for an eye’ style revenge, even if I can see the attraction of it in a situation like this. Firstly she comes onto Nathan’s close friend, who has stepped in and helps her look after the children when Nathan has disappeared, begging him to kiss her, even though he has a girlfriend. Then, when she takes off on a whim to Austin, hauling her two children across the country, it’s clearly all about Rajiv and using him as a way to boost up her ego. Which might be fine if the guy wasn’t in love with her, and hadn’t been in love with her for years. By all means, go out and have a fling if it makes you feel better, but she could’ve at least chosen someone who wasn’t so emotionally invested. A guy she kissed years ago, a guy who had told her he was in love with her, a guy who she has chosen Nathan over before. I lost a lot of respect for her as a character when she made that decision.

Having been hurt, I can understand her desire to inflict some pain herself, but she involved a pretty innocent third party and that annoyed me immensely. Don’t bring other people into your messed up world when you’re not in the position to offer them what they’re looking for, and you know that.

Although the book touches on a possible issue contributing to Nathan’s fidelity – his belief that Sarah has ‘changed’ from her University days and doesn’t see herself as a writer anymore – I actually felt that this was quite weakly done and should’ve been more deeply explored. It actually seemed a bit of a cop out on Nathan’s part to use that as an excuse, as Sarah works full time to support his writing career. Change is a good topic to explore, when people who are highly creative settle down into the roles of husband and wife, mother and father. A lot of the time the devotion you had for your particular craft, no matter what it is, has to take a step back even temporarily so that you can devote yourself to your children and your partner. If someone does change a little, I’m not sure it’s a legitimate excuse to go out and sleep with another person – someone who is still apparently devoted to their craft.

The novel also lacked a definitive ending for me. I know what Sarah decides to do, and I guess we are supposed to just guess for ourselves how it works out for her, but they could’ve showed Sarah’s thought processes about taking this step. It quite frankly, comes out of no where and I don’t know why she chooses to do that. I don’t know how she works out any of the differences and the issues because that isn’t in the book. Self-indulgent and unlikable characters and a narrative riddled with gaps meant that this novel disintegrated pretty quickly for me. I didn’t enjoy either Nathan or Sarah and was left wondering about too many things in this book.


Book #125 of 2010

2 responses to “Husband & Wife – Leah Stewart

  1. Misha says:

    I had heard nothing but good stuff about this book. It’s nice to see a different viewpoint too. I will push it down my TBR , I think.

  2. Richard paul says:

    My name is richard paul i am an engineer i work in solar engineering work .what i have to say is that i nee d a serious minded wife

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