Saturday, October 29, 2011
"I married you for happiness," by Lily Tuck
Early evening, a woman's husband comes home, greets her, goes up to their bedroom and dies. She spends the night by his side, looking back on their happy marriage.
That's the plot, such as it is, to author Lily Tuck's "I Married You for Happiness."
Philip and Nina are worldly, educated, and well-traveled so that the stuff of their otherwise anonymous lives does not weigh the reader down in boring, quotidian minutiae.
She is a painter. He is a mathematician specializing in the field of probability. The novel is peppered with lectures on this topic, some to his students, some to his wife. These can be interesting or opaque and difficult to understand.
Even in the latter case, Tuck manages to make it sound good and it's not beyond reason to suspect there was something in the language associated with probability that she found pleasing to the eye and ear.
As Philip's examples and scenarios accumulate, it seems the author is trying to say this happy marriage, with its ebb and flow, glories and pratfalls, was something that might or might not have occurred given the laws governing chance and that, even though it panned out, it was not meant to be forever.
Ms. Tuck is a prior winner of the National Book Award and her command of craft is patent in "I married you for happiness."
The remembering takes place as the night winds on. The reader is kept abreast of the changing light outside, the passing of cars, and barking of dogs. You know Philip is dead and the recollections are more poignant because you know this woman will have no more of them.
There is no chronology. The memories are placed by the author in places she needs them most, the musings on probability the same, yet for all this temporal disorder, an overall impression of control seeps from this thin tome.
Maybe it's the two lives detailed that imposed the order.
Those with happy marriages can mourn along with Nina, even apply the exercise to their won coupling. Those less fortunate can indulge in a kind of guilty pleasure, absolved, up to a point, by the underlying theme of chance and likelihoods.