HUSBAND AND WIFE by Leah Steward
“The fight went on from there, to such places as whether it took longer to do the laundry (my job) or the dishes (his). If there’s anything we’ve learned from the endless parsing of everything, it’s that nothing is ever about what it seems to be about….There’s a subtext to the subtext, every argument a rabbit hole. Do you we know why we’re angry? Do we know what we’re fighting about?”
Review by Eleanor Bukowsky (JUN 17, 2010)
The first person narrator of Leah Stewart’s Husband and Wife is thirty-five year old Sarah Price, who has been married to Nathan Bennett, a fiction writer, for four years. They are the doting parents of an incredibly precocious three-year-old girl, Mattie, and a baby boy. Sarah, who was once a promising poet, is now a busy mother who has a full-time job as a business manager for the Department of Neurobiology at Duke University. She is perpetually worn-out, but considers herself to be relatively fulfilled. One day, Nathan throws a monkey-wrench into their relationship when he confesses that his new book, Infidelity, is not completely fictional. Nathan morosely admits, “I cheated on you.” These four words shake Sarah’s faith in her marriage, leading her to microscopically examine every facet of her life with the man she thought she knew.
Sarah and Nathan somehow go on (they have responsibilities, after all), but Nathan’s betrayal makes it difficult for Sarah to act as if nothing has happened. Although she freely acknowledges that Nathan is “a good stay-at-home parent” who “did a lot around the house,” she becomes increasingly agitated and even slightly unhinged. Although Nathan may feel better for having unburdened himself, he may have also destroyed Sarah’s self-esteem (“I looked fat in my dress, and I wasn’t a poet anymore”) and her ability to trust him.
Stewart is an accomplished writer who capably examines the rocky terrain of modern marriage. There is so much pressure on young couples to balance parenthood, a profession, and a social life. As a result, they may become too preoccupied with the minutiae of their day-to-day routines and forget that love needs constant nurturing. The author, who is a married mother of two, knows this terrain well. Stewart understands that Sarah, who breastfeeds, entertains Mattie, bathes and diapers her son, and goes to work every day, has become so frazzled that she is ill-equipped to deal with so much domestic drama.
Although Husband and Wife has its strengths, it would have been far more effective had Sarah showed even a semblance of maturity. Instead of dealing with her problems constructively, Sarah wallows in self-pity and makes herself and everyone she encounters miserable. She has an irresistible urge to hurt Nathan: “Who doesn’t want to punish the person who’s punished them?” Although he is not a flawless human being, Nathan is intelligent, funny, and sensitive. He is also an involved and devoted father who loves his wife and is committed to saving their marriage. Sarah, on the other hand, admits that she “was a child of the good times” who does not handle disappointment well and, as a result, panics when she encounters the inevitable bumps in the road. This novel is both entertaining and irritating. We grow to care about Nathan and Sarah, but at the same time, we want to shake them for taking one another for granted and being so stupidly narcissistic.
Editor’s Note: В This would be a great pick for a book club… see the link below for the Reading Guide and the long list of discussion questions.
|AMAZON READER RATING:||from 19 readers|
|PUBLISHER:||Harper; 1 edition (May 4, 2010)|
|AVAILABLE AS A KINDLE BOOK?||YES! Start Reading Now!|
|AUTHOR WEBSITE:||Leah Steward|
|EXTRAS:||Reading Guide and Excerpt|
|MORE ON MOSTLYFICTION:||More husbands and wives:
On Beauty by Zadie Smith
Marriage: A Duet by Anne Taylor Fleming
Perfect Life by Jessica Shattuck