Tuesday, December 22, 2009
I Read You, I See Me, Part 2
Continued from yesterday....
Much of Powell's book makes me cringe from a certain, palpable recognition, but I won't go so far as to beat up Powell for her issues surrounding her husband. I was especially annoyed with the female reviewers who claimed that Powell treated her husband like crap. Well, perhaps so, in some ways, but the truth is - and I'm speaking from experience here - her husband stayed in the relationship out of his own desires for whatever it is that he gets from the situation.
I seriously doubt that Powell ever pulled a knife on him and told him that he couldn't leave so that she could continue to cuckold him and then write about it. No, there's more to it and I won't pretend, unlike those other reviewers, to know what it is. Powell's husband is a grown man with a mind of his own. If he were so unhappy, he would leave. Why doesn't he or why can't he? Perhaps he could write his own book and explain. Perhaps he doesn't feel the need.
All of this is to say that as I've plucked images, people, moments and bad actions from my own life to write my book, I have fretted over how my characters would be viewed because they, too, are incredibly flawed people. Not one of them is all good or all bad. Like most of us, each has their quirks and demons. Each of them can appear utterly normal while a river of ick runs below the surface. And each of them will just carry on, as people do, stumbling, picking themselves up and trying again. Some will even be kicked while they're down and the person doing the kicking might surprise the reader. But isn't that how life is?
So do I love the Powell book? Probably not.
Honestly? I'm reading it with the same self-absorption that Powell wrote it. I'm making it all about me. I'm skimming the butchery parts because I got dragged out to the slaughterhouse one too many times when I was a kid and reading those parts can give me an olfactory flashback that is most unpleasant. Nope, I'm a perfectly self-absorbed reader, searching for the words and passages that resonate with me, that reflect my own situation or that illustrate perfectly and quite eloquently the relationship MathMan and I have shared lo these twenty-two years. More embarrassingly, I cling to the bits that describe her obsession with her lover because it, too, reflects my own personal mismanagement that sent me skittering toward madness a couple of years ago.
Would I recommend it to you? Not without caveat. As one reviewer said, "If you believe in the sanctity of marriage, this book is not for you...." Oh, agreed. A big heaping helping of agreed. If you're a sanctity of marriage person, consider this my Danger! Danger, Will Robinson! moment. Do not bother yourself with this book.
But if you think that people get married for all kinds of reasons - known and unknown - and that each marriage is the sum of its parts, rather than some spiritual binding, then you might like this book.
The fact is - infidelity is but one way to hurt your spouse. There are sins of commission and sins of omission. No one ever wants to talk abut the damage done by withholding affection or love or intimacy. No one wants to discuss how marriages begun in one's twenties might just outlive their realistic shelf life when the couple reaches their forties, fifties or sixties. Perhaps the whole reason we've seen a cultural shift in the average age at which people marry for the first time is because the younger generations understand that who you are when you're twenty-two isn't the person you want to have picking out the person with whom you'll spend the rest of your life.
For my part, I'm going to finish my story the way I'd originally intended. Yesterday morning, as I was going over it with MathMan, fussing about what the moralists might think (fingers crossed they'll have their chance to moralize about it!), MathMan asked why I should care? I care, I guess, because I know that I will just as protective of my characters as I was of Julie Powell, a character of her own making. It irritates me that often the same people who can get totally insane about marital fidelity are the same people who would insist that people stay in unhappy marriages - kind of the 'you made your bed, now you must lie in it' approach to living. It's punitive and petty and unnecessary.
Of course, Powell puts herself out there for the attacks by the simple act of writing about her life - warts and all. I suspect she must have a relatively thick skin by now, but who knows? And besides, as someone once said, respectability is overrated. I'm sure Powell has heard that before...