30 May 2011

Book (P)review: I Married You For Happiness by Lily Tuck

 Last week I attended BEA in NYC, and though most of my time was spent in appointments with publicists and marketing people at various publishers, I did manage to carry away with me a select number of galleys.  And for the first time in my history of attending trade shows, I walked away with only what I could carry in one small Envirosax bag, but I suppose that is neither here nor there.  

I finished reading Lily Tuck's novel over breakfast this morning and I thought it was just wonderful.  I had never read any of her work before, though her name was vaguely familiar to me when I picked up the book at the Grove/Atlantic booth from Deb Seager.  She won the National Book Award for her novel The News from Paraguay and was shortlisted for the PEN/Faulkner Award for Siam.  I Married You For Happiness releases in September. 

What is the probability that a husband will arrive home from work in good health, yet die of heart failure before dinner?  How does one measure a marriage or evaluate a memory?  In her latest novel, Tuck attempts to answer all of these questions in a most poignant way.  When Philip dies during a pre-prandial nap, Nina keeps quiet vigil with his body through the night, flooded by memories of their marriage ranging from mundane moments (playing tennis, taking a Sunday drive) to the most pivotal ones (the day they met, the birth of their daughter, her brief affair).  Nina's artistic nature is contrapuntal to Philip's logical one, and her fascinating detours into his class lecture on probability & statistics, together with her struggles to understand the fundamental differences in the man she loves, reveal their relationship to be as intricate and beautiful as any mathematical theorem. I think if I had to choose one word to describe I Married You For Happiness, it would be "intimate," for above all, this book is a private meditation on Nina's and Philip's life together, and there were times I felt it would be more proper to avert my gaze than to continue reading.  And yet Tuck's prose is so lovely, and the transitions between the present vigil and the past memories so seamless, that I could not look away.  

A random, parting thought: why do the two chairs on the cover seem to have two different sources of light to cast shadows at such divergent angles?  


  1. If there were two sources of light there would be two shadows for each chair. It might be a composite image because I can't work out where the light would be (photography is my other passions).

  2. Yes, Ellie, you're right--there can't be two sources of light if it's a single image, but I didn't word my musing very well. I guess my real question is wondering if the different angles of the shadows is any reflection of the story itself, or if, as you say, the image might be a composite one with no thought as to light sources?

  3. Wow. Looking forward to this one when it hits the stores...
    And Caleb's Crossing I decided to save for summer, because I always associate that season with the Vineyard.

  4. I haven't heard of this book or the author before, so thanks for sharing. The story sounds quite intriguing. There's an eerie element with the wife keeping a dead body over night, but at the same time it seems very poignant. Sounds like an excellent look at such a deep and intimate relationship. Looking forward to this one now. Great review!

  5. The placement of the chairs in the photo is absolutely related to the story. Under the same light (faith; god?), arrange your POV (the chair) in a different direction, and the impact of the POV is reflected differently upon the world (shadows). Then take the photographer's POV looking into the scene and take into consideration the capturing of a moment in time (assuming sunlight casting an ever-shifting shadow) and the foreshortening effect of the chairs' shape and possibly the flattening effect of taking the photo with a certain lens, and I think this photo makes for a perfect image to go with the book. Very poignant, indeed.

    Not that I've read it, you see, just writing a photo review to go on a book blog...


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