"Marriage: A Duet"
(Reviewed by Shannon Bloomstran JAN 09, 2003)Marriages, mostly bad marriages and ensuing adulterous liaisons, have always been fodder for literary endeavors. Where would the literary pantheon be without Anna Karenina, Emma Bovary and Jay Gatsby? Journalist Ann Taylor Fleming steps into the affair arena and has provided us in Marriage: A Duet a pair of decidedly unjournalistic novellas. The two together total less than 200 pages but Fleming packs those pages full of rage, grief, humiliation, and frustration. A common thread, grief over adultery, and a common therapist links the two novellas, one from the perspective of a man and the other from a woman. They are quite different in tone and outlook, similar in their introspection and emotional payload.
The first novella, "A Married Woman" concerns the Betts family, particularly wife, Caroline, who is keeping watch over her comatose husband, Will. At its onset, Caroline's family, overachiever lawyer Katie and semi slacker chef, Steve have appeared to provide a measure of moral support to their mother in her apparent grief. Fleming, who gives her characters Aaron Sorkin like gifts of hyper-articulation, maintains a nonintrusive style, each family member isolated in their own grief. Caroline battles the twin demons of grief for her brain dead husband and her rage at him for carrying on an illicit affair with a young friend of their daughter. It's a very pointed and painful examination of her marriage, what led up to the affair and the affair's eventual end. It's all "chillingly civil," Caroline is not a talker, she exists primarily in her own head and so we are privy to her every erudite and elegantly icy thought about the affair. "She wanted to hate him and some days she managed, a fine crisp autumnal hatred that matched the actual seasonal shift from summer. Mostly she was gnawed by a malevolent sorrow, . . .She moved outside herself and lived beside the sorrow. And waited. For something--or someone--to break."
In sharp contrast to Caroline's inner agony, the main character of the second novella, "A Married Man," externalizes his grief over his wife's fling. David and Marcia Sanderson are trying to put their relationship back together after she carried out a Clintonian liaison with one of David's clients. Neither novella provides the reader with the perspective of the philanderer, only with that of the "wronged spouse," however it is far easier to empathize with Caroline than with David, who shows himself as a snarky adolescent, unwilling or unable to let go of his humiliation. David is so sexually attracted to his wife that he's willing to forsake her and their children because someone else has touched her. The second novella is much more graphic digging up a more raw and unsophisticated grief than the first and ties in all sorts of ruminations about male and female roles. Fleming skewers both self-help groups and the miracles of modern pharmacology when David visits a "forgiveness group" and mentally berates another participant for appearing to forgive his wife. "He was the hope of humankind. . .the lonesome holdout against. . .the pap-shouting, Prozac-prescribing fixers and schmoozers who would take the ragged sorrows of a man's heart and turn them into mawkish pabulum to be served up for public consumption. Pain was not a spectator sport." David's anger forces his descent into a grotesque near-madness. There are no happy endings here.
When I typed "adultery" into thesaurus.com, it gave me such silly sounding synonyms as "hanky-panky," "musical beds" and "matinee." Fleming leads the reader to discover that despite the lighthearted names, adultery is anything but.
- Amazon readers rating: from 12 reviews
Read a chapter excerpt from Marriage: A Duet at MostlyFiction.com
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Bibliography: (with links to Amazon.com)
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- Diane Rehm Show audio interview with Anne Taylor Fleming (under Jan. 10, 2003)
- PBS Essay authored by Anne Taylor Fleming
- Bartleby Quote by Anne Taylor Fleming
- BookPage review of Marriage
- Review of Books review of Marriage
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About the Author:
Anne Taylor Fleming is a nationally recognized journalist and CNN NewsNight contributor. She is a regular on-camera essayist for the NewsHour with Jim Lehrer. Her work has appeared in the New York Times, Newsweek, the New Yorker, Vogue, and Redbook. She has been a radio commentator for CBS and a TV commentator for NBC. This is her first work of fiction. Fleming lives in Los Angeles with her husband, journalist Karl Fleming.