In my late 20s, with my career blossoming, the appeal the book held for me shifted: Now I was more taken with the passionate, collaborative partnership Kathy and Mike had formed. I was hoping to find my own soul mate, someone who would engage me, heart and mind. When I found that man, just to be sure, I read him Mrs. Mike during late, lazy nights in bed. I noticed that the story was a tad schmaltzy, its portrayal of native people often problematic. But luckily—for him as well as me—he saw past that. He compared the book to his own all-time favorite, Jude the Obscure, another tale of near-inexplicable perseverance.
I'm not saying I wouldn't have married him if he didn't love my favorite book, but that certainly clinched the deal.
Mrs. Mike caused a sensation when it was published 60 years ago, selling more than a million copies in the first year. Since then, it's been continuously in print, though often just barely. I'd assumed its authors, husband-and-wife team Nancy and Benedict Freedman, were long dead. Even if they'd been as young as 30 in 1947...well, you do the math. Still, they'd had such a profound effect on my life, I wondered what theirs had been like. So one afternoon in the fall of 2002, I did the contemporary version of sneaking into someone's bedroom: I Googled them. Immediately, I found a newspaper article about the way that much-loved but obscure books had been given new life via Amazon.com. Mrs. Mike was example A. The dozens of reader reviews—mostly from women like me who'd treasured the story in their teens—had prompted a major reissue. Interesting. But there was more: The Freedmans had been interviewed for the story. Interviewed! That meant they were alive. And not only were they alive, but in a miraculous coincidence, their home was just a short drive from mine. It felt like fate. I quickly banged out a fan letter explaining what their book had meant to me—the chance to have a similar impact on even a single reader is, as much as anything, why I became a writer—and asking if I could meet them. Within days I received an invitation to tea.
By then, my husband and I had been married for ten years, the last five of which had been spent—more and more miserably—trying to have a child. We'd been through three miscarriages, months of soulless sex, invasive tests, pills and shots, two cycles of in vitro fertilization using my eggs and a third using a friend's. Nothing had worked. Along the way, I seemed to have lost the ability to feel joy; my husband was angry that his tenderness couldn't restore it. Now, when I reread Mrs. Mike before visiting its authors, it was the tragedies that stood out, the cost of Kathy's willfulness. I recognized myself in the flat grief of her losses, the way pain eroded her capacity for love. I, too, dreamed of starting over somewhere else, making different, perhaps safer, choices. Even my usual refuge—my work—was suffering. How could I trust my instincts as a writer, as an observer of human nature, when I'd so screwed up my own life?
I don't know what I wanted from the Freedmans. A little distraction, perhaps, a reminder of a better time. I was eager to quiz them about what had happened to Kathy and Mike after the book's final page. Had things gone well? Were they happy? After so much sadness, had they found peace? I felt personally invested—maybe too invested—in the answers.
We Hear You!