4 Books That Capture the Beautiful Complexity of Marriage
334 pages; Quartet Books Ltd
Published in the early '90s, this is a novel that I wish more people would read. The title is from a Bruce Springsteen song (Would they ever look so happy again / The handsome groom and his bride / As they stepped into that long black limousine / For their mystery ride), and one of its major themes is the idea that love isn't a finite experience with a beginning and an end. The novel follows the divergent trajectories of Angela and Stephen Landis 11 years after their divorce, when Stephen is living on a farm in Iowa and Angela is living in L.A. with their troubled daughter, each of them involved with someone else. It's a beautiful book, full of "the almost inexhaustible mystery of love found and lost.'' The chapter that gets me the most, however, is when the pregnant Angela and Stephen get together one Christmas Eve in Arizona, sans partners, and Angela goes unexpectedly into labor. Stephen has to drive her to the hospital, and Angela, looking at "his steady hands on the wheel," realizes that "this is the man I have loved best ... and this is the man who has loved me best." At the hospital, Stephen holds her hand during her contractions, and it's as if they're still married, as if she's delivering Stephen's baby and not her husband's and they've gone through some magic portal and become doppelgängers of themselves. But then the contractions end—a false alarm—and they both realize that true love and marriage aren't necessarily compatible: "Love did not really conquer all. It didn't, and it shouldn't." It's this "shouldn't" that seems especially wise to me: Loving someone and finding a workable life with him aren't necessarily the same thing. A happy marriage is partly, then, a lucky one. What are the odds for love and life to align? I always finish Boswell's novel with a feeling of great good fortune, but also with the disquieting awareness that the merging of two lives into one is an improbable thing to begin with, a strange and beautiful gamble.
Eric Puchner is the author of Last Day on Earth, Music Through the Floor and Model Home.
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