Read This Book!

I feel compelled, as never before compelled by a book, even before I finish readi
ng it, to shout, especially to my male friends who, like so many American men, do not read fiction, you must read this book immediately! I’m talking about A Happy Marriage, by Rafael Yglesias.

In brilliant and transparent prose, Yglesias[1] fearlessly explores his own life as a husband, a stumbling young lover, as a devoted caretaker to a dying wife, as a man full of rage and helplessness and as a writer. Here’s one of the many paragraphs that made my heart stop:

“And in that paralyzed silence, he realized that there was something in his brain which — despite all the hours spent learning about survival rates and the nature of metastasis, despite closely watching his father die of prostate cancer — he hadn’t known he would lose, this something in his head that had been present since Bernard Weinstein rang his doorbell twenty-nine years ago. In this silence of her silent, flowing tears, he realized that it was something essential which soon would be gone and that it was more than simply the expectation that Margaret would stay alive. He had no word for it. A note of music, perhaps it was his name being called, something he didn’t always enjoy, something he had grabbed for rescue, something he had possessed with pleasure, something he had resented with anger. In the carpeted silence of this luxury room of disease, he felt it depart for a moment, a preview of his robbed future, and he understood that this was real in a way nothing should ever be real, that their marriage was a mystery he was going to lose, despite twenty-seven years living inside it, before he understood who they were.”

If time allowed, I would have inhaled this book in one reading. Instead, I find myself stealing moments that turn into hours, standing in hallways or at the kitchen table when I should be washing up and getting back to work, transfixed by one devastating recognition after another. I’ve been married the same length of time as Enrique, though, kinehora[2], my wife is healthy. Like Enrique, I could not believe my overwhelming good fortune in winning a beautiful, accomplished and loving woman, though I had to wait until I was almost forty. Enrique meets Margaret in his early twenties. By alternating chapters telling the story of their meeting and courtship in the “bankrupt New York” of the seventies, with chapters set in the novel’s present time of 2004, days before Margaret’s death from bladder cancer, Yglesias has found an ideal narrative structure that allows the reader enough relief from the inevitable arc of loss to keep reading what otherwise might be unbearable. Instead, by moving back and forth in time, he gives us a prismatic view of two lives growing together like wisteria and roses and coming apart as any living being eventually must.

Perhaps I’ll return to this after I finish reading the book, but my admiration, appreciation and sense that this book is answering questions that I had not known how to even ask, prevent me from waiting to post this.

 [1] Rafael Yglesias is a half Jewish, half Cuban and Spanish novelist and    

screenwriter who, like the protagonist of   A Happy Marriage, Enrique Sabas, dropped out of school when he was sixteen to write his first novel. He stands in the middle of three generations of writers. His parents were Helen and José Yglesias both noted novelists and non-fiction writers who were also part of New York’s left-wing literary culture for many years. His son Matthew is a writer and highly respected blogger on politics and his younger son Nicholas is also a novelist.

[2] Yiddish. Literally, a compressed pronounciation of the sentence: Keyn ayn hara, “No evil eye” used as a magical defense against bad fortune when the possibility of future good fortune or catrastrophe is mentioned

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