I requested and received the e-galley of Lily Tuck’s I Married You For Happiness through netgally.com. Publisher: Atlantic Monthly Press Publication date: September 2011
When composing the book review of Lily Tuck’s I Married You For Happiness I found myself in a conundrum. The writing style is easy to read, good word choices, and the tone fulfilled the overall thrust of the book. I reread several parts of it, trying to determine why I felt a bit dissatisfied.
I was quite pleased with the unique setting of telling about a 30+ year relationship. There is a death. An unexpected and unexplained death. Philip comes home, says he'll lie down a bit before dinner, and that's his end. Nina finds him on the bed...dead. No sign of convulsion, or distress. Just—gone. The story is the new widow in mild shock, and remembering select moments in their life together as she sits by the bed all night.
As often happens with memories, they come erratically, triggered by sound, a glimpsed object, a taste. The memories tell of their meeting in Paris, parts of his background and hers; her concerns for things she never really knew about him, and her own secrets she kept from him. This montage of the past is laced with mathematical theory and content. That was his life, a mathematician. The well-researched comments from the profession are interesting, yet also show the distance in their relationship (even the cover image shows this). Nina didn't understand most of it, and didn't seem to want to understand.
For me, learning their story through memories (essentially flashbacks) became tedious. Another problem was the present-tense narrative that became intrusive; I found some of the transitions between past and present (both told in present tense) a bit rough. There were also scenes that Nina couldn't have known about, such as what Philip said to his class at various times—even in their last session.
I really didn't care much for Nina. I had empathy for her situation—the suddenness of lifestyle change—but she seemed too withdrawn even in the memories. Referred to as a redhead, noted for fiery character, hers was bland. The title "I Married You for Happiness" could have had an addend "But Didn't Find It." The scenes of possible happiness were tainted by the smell of garbage, a prowling cat, a lost dog. It seemed more she married him for direction and was irritatingly content to be the house frau on the fringe of his busy life. Only once was her art work referred to as completed, in reference to a piece she gave to their daughter; the rest was scrapped, unfinished, and sources of dissatisfaction. Perhaps this was Lily Tuck's design for the book. If so, I think she succeeded. If not...
Herein is one of the book's strengths: it's propensity to induce contemplation (consternation?). I Married You For Happiness will be a great title for book clubs and reading groups because of the varied opinions and reactions that will come forth.