Book Report: I Married You for Happiness [Tall Drink of Nerd]

 In *Archives, Amy Robinson, BOOK WEEK

Reading this book, I was reminded of being halfway through a bath; It’s warm, but cooling off, you’re already clean and at this point just sitting in your own dirty water. Ok, mostly it’s just the luke warm thing.

I Married You for Happiness, a novel by Lily Tuck (who won the National Book Award for 2004’sThe News from Paraguay) is about more than just happiness and marriage. It’s about the depth and breadth of life itself. Even with that whole menu of experience to choose from, I found myself getting bored reading the thing. Let’s start with the details.

IMYfH begins when Nina discovers her husband, Philip, has died very unexpectedly in the upstairs bedroom while she was making dinner. Instead of calling the police or for an ambulance, Nina cracks a window and sits next to the bed, where Philip has expired, and spends the night sipping her way through a bottle of wine. (Shock and grief make a person do weird things, so this actually does seem entirely feasible to me.) The book takes us through a night of her reminiscing about their entire life together, the highs, lows and the mundane. We are occasionally returned to the room where Nina sits and Philip cools, to see her current state, before she hops onto another memory stream and rides it for 8-10 pages.

I really enjoyed the idea of this book. To travel through the life of a married couple in memory was like finding a new treasure each time Nina came to a new memory. Honestly, I liked the painful and dull memories as much as I did the happy ones. That was so very real-life. In my own life, I try to find the happiness in the day-to-day, because you only get one go round. So I related at her being present for those moments.

Nina’s display of love for Philip, after his passing, was mildly touching and kind of uncomfortable. I can sympathise with her not wanting to tell anyone, her silence kept the truth at bay for her. I’m so attached to my husband, that I have told him there is NO WAY he can die before me. I just couldn’t handle it. (Though I have thought of what I would say at his eulogy, it’s all wonderful and genius, but in truth, I would be to devastated to speak). Even then, I doubt that I would spend the evening with his corpse, but who knows with that kind of shock.

What I was missing in this book was any passion. In reminiscing, Nina treats each subject so distantly, Tuck fails to make me care about either of these characters or any of the other souls that drift into their life together. So, I was less than passionate about reading or finishing this story. If I hadn’t been lined up to review IMYfH, I probably wouldn’t have finished reading it. This is a very quiet novel (maybe so as to not to wake the dead). Aside from having a sympathetic reaction to the loss of a life partner, I had very little emotional attachment to Nina and Philip, other than the several times when I found them annoyingly pretentious.

As with any book I read, there was something to be learned here. With this book, I’ve learned to create deep relationships between my characters so that the reader actually cares when one of them dies.


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Showing 4 comments
  • Ernessa T. Carter

    I found this review interesting in that you hit upon a problem I’ve had with a few otherwise well-written literary novels. While I enjoy good craft and writing, in a few cases I’ve felt put off by the emotional distance that the author maintains from her subjects. It’s as if I’m reading everything through a filtered distance. It’s a little like trying to fall in love with a beautiful but cold man … tiresome after a point. I say show us a heart beating on the page or show us nothing at all. On Thursday, I’ll be posting book reports for BEL CANTO by Ann Patchett and THE WINTERS IN BLOOM by Lisa Tucker — two authors who know how to write beautifully and also make us care about their characters. 

    • Amy Robinson

      Ooh, I did not want to like Bel Canto, but ended up really attached to the characters and missed them when the book ended. Can’t wait to read your reviews!

  • Wiarchivist

    Note that this title did not win the National Book Award.  The author received the award for her first novel.  This novel was shortlisted for a couple of other prizes.

    • Amy Robinson

      Thank you for the correction. I’ve updated the article accordingly.

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