Two Marriages
By Phillip Lopate
272 pages; Other Press

In Two Marriages (Other Press), the brilliant Phillip Lopate pairs two novellas about struggling with the most unknowable of characters: one's spouse. In "Eleanor, or the Second Marriage," a hip, middle-aged Brooklyn couple has to come to terms with the wife's straying in an otherwise good relationship. Narrated at a cool distance, this is a rather conventional piece of modern melancholy. The other novella is just extraordinary, thanks to the genius of its unreliable narrator.

"The Stoic's Marriage" takes the form of a delightfully fatuous diary of newly wedded bliss by a classics scholar named Gordon. While Gordon fancies himself a stoic, he's clearly more of an overgrown baby, still living off his parents' money in his late 40s when he falls in love with the Filipino attendant caring for his dying mother. Serving up rich food, rapturous sex, and unchallenging companionship, his new wife seems only to complete this babyhood. Then, slowly, it dawns on Gordon that he's being taken for an amazing ride.

Lopate absolutely nails this mama's boy—his snobbery, his physical insecurities, the absurd seriousness with which he regards his own feelings. Nonetheless, Lopate is much too fine a writer to allow his readers simply to laugh Gordon off. His tardy passage to adulthood is moving despite its comedy, and his delusions feel uncomfortably universal. Doesn't everybody have to fool themselves a little to be happy in marriage? — Michele Owens


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