The plot has an unsatisfying deus ex machina ending, as some amazon.com reviews suggest, but the question that interested me from the book is this: What is the appropriate level of, ah, intensity in a marriage?
Gwen, Asher's first-person narrator, had been involved in an intense, overwhelming relationship in college, then broke up with the guy and married "Peter," who
didn't shove love at me. He didn't lavish it on. He wasn't brimming with love. He doled it out in portions. Love wasn't an ocean—it came in packets....So Gwen's looking for something more: she wants love like an ocean, peace like a river, joy like a fountain? Something like that maybe.
It was perfect for me when we met. In fact it was all I could have handled.
And, later, as I was learning that it was insufficient, I knew that I was asking too much of him.... And, the truth was, we'd have passed any marital test—from a psychologist to a Cosmo quiz. We made each other laugh. We had enough good sex and regularly so. ... We didn't squabble in public, and we barely ever squabbled at all. ... We were, by all accounts, lovely to be with, a sweet couple that looked nice together walking into a room.
I knew that there were many women out there who would have said: It's enough already. Be happy with what you have. They were right—and wrong. (70-71)
This put me in mind of Lori Gottlieb's article in the May 2008 Atlantic, featuring the graphic at right. Ms. Gottlieb takes what one might call an opposing point of view, as shown in this paragraph:
My advice is this: Settle! That’s right. Don’t worry about passion or intense connection. Don’t nix a guy based on his annoying habit of yelling ‘Bravo!’ in movie theaters. Overlook his halitosis or abysmal sense of aesthetics. Because if you want to have the infrastructure in place to have a family, settling is the way to go. Based on my observations, in fact, settling will probably make you happier in the long run, since many of those who marry with great expectations become more disillusioned with each passing year. (It’s hard to maintain that level of zing when the conversation morphs into discussions about who’s changing the diapers or balancing the checkbook.)Now to the "fish without a bicycle" crowd, Gottlieb's article probably sounds like “Please tar and feather me.”
I have to confess that Asher's book made me a little uneasy. I think that many males have secret or not-so-secret anxieties about whether they're really enough. Am I enough of a husband to the lovely Carol? Am I enough of a... a... whatever-Gwen-wanted?
Reading Asher I feel insecure; I get a sense of relief from Gottlieb. Gottlieb is single and Asher's fictional Gwen is married; this, plus the grass-is-greener syndrome, undoubtedly affect their views of What To Expect From Marriage.
The Pretend Wife reminds me of a fairy tale: it ends with a hint of "and they lived happily ever after" but we actually have no idea whether Gwen will be dissatisfied about something else after a few years with the other guy.
That's life, isn't it? As Lewis's Aslan says, "No one is ever told what would have happened"; neither do we know what will happen to us. Gottlieb doesn't know how she'd feel today if she had in fact "settled" for one of the men she rejected a few years earlier.
Still, there's a part of me that wants the lovely Carol to think I'm enough of a husband—enough of a man perhaps?—for her. Sure, part of that is my own insecurity, my own ego; another part, I think, is that I want her to be happy. As much as I lack as a husband—I actually know I'm not an ideal one—my best self really wants the best for her.
I'll end with a line from Randy Stonehill, completely out of context: "So if You'll trust me I'll do my best and I'll be trusting You for the rest"