I MARRIED YOU FOR HAPPINESS by Lily Tuck
“His hand is growing cold; still she holds it. Sitting at his bedside she does not cry. From time to time, she lays her cheek against his, taking slight comfort in the rough bristle of unshaved hair, and she speaks to him a little.
I love you, she tells him.
I always will.
Je tâ€™aime, she says.”
Review by Bonnie Brody Â (SEP 8, 2011)
Lily Tuck`s novel, I Married You for Happiness, is the story of a woman mourning the sudden death of her husband. It was shortly before dinner when Philip came home from his college teaching position. When Nina calls him for dinner he is dead. She lies by his cold body all night remembering their lives together. The prose is spare and lovely, recalling their joys, passions and pains of their forty-two years together.
Recently, I’ve read three memoirs about grieving a spouse after sudden death: Joan Didion’s The Year of Magical Thinking, Joyce Carol Oates’ A Widow’s Story, and Francisco Goldman’s Say Her Name. Lily Tuck’s book covers similar territory as these memoirs but in fictional form.
Nina is an artist and Philip is a mathematician specializing in probability theory. They have one daughter, thirty-five year old Louise. This book takes place over the course of one night following Philip’s death. As the story unfolds, Louise does not yet know her father has died. Nina just wants to spend this one night next to Philip. “In the morning she will make telephone calls, she will write e-mails, make arrangements; the death certificate, the funeral home, the church service – whatever needs to be done. Tonight – tonight, she wants nothing. She wants to be alone. Alone with Philip.”
Nina tries to remember their lives together, the big things and the little things. She is especially focused on thoughts about a woman that Philip had known before meeting her. Iris and Philip were in a car crash and Iris died. Had Iris lived, Nina wonders, would Philip have married her instead of Nina? She puts together different theories of probability in her mind for different scenarios and tries to think like her husband would in these situations. “What if she finds a photo of Iris? The photo slips out from in between papers, from inside a folder in a desk drawer.”
Simple things cause her great anxiety. What were the exact last words she said to Philip? What did they do yesterday, last weekend? She is not sure and this bothers her. She wants to know and hold the past close to her, remembering all that she can.
She and Philip were so different. Nina paints mostly landscapes and portraits, usually with water colors. Philip gives lectures on probability. She remembers lots of mathematical problems and information that Philip has shared with her even though many are beyond her capacity to understand. “Most mathematical functions, Philip tells her, are classified as two-way functions because they are easy to do and easy to undo – like addition and subtraction, for example. The way turning a light on and turning it off is a two-way function. A one-way function is more complicated because although it may be easy to do, you cannot undo it. Like mixing paint, you can’t unmix it, or like breaking an egg shell, you can’t put the egg back together.” Nina thinks about the physics of alternate universes and wonders if Philip can be alive and dead. Is he really dead?
Nina also gives a lot of thought to the existence of an afterlife and what the great philosophers had to say about it, especially Pascal. Pascal believed it was a better probability to believe in God than not because if God existed and one behaved righteously, they could have eternal life. Still, Nina is not convinced. Ironically, Philip the mathematician had more of a belief in afterlife than does Nina. Philip believes in a libertarian God, “a God who allows room for free will.”
Nina struggles to remember where they’ve lived, what countries they’ve visited, how many houses they resided in, how many animals they’ve owned. These little things help her feel closer to Philip as she spends the night next to him holding his hand and stroking his face. This is her night to be with him, her last night to shower herself in their love.
Philip’s favorite color was red. He once brought her a red embroidered coat from Hong Kong. She rarely ever wore it. However, tonight she puts it on over an old coat she is wearing and parades around the room in it, wondering if Philip would have found this silly.
During their marriage, Nina had an affair and once was raped. She kept both of these occurences secret from Philip. She worries about Philip’s faithfulness to her. “Sometimes when Philip comes back from being away, she sniffs through his laundry, searching for the scent of an unfamiliar perfume – patchouli, jasmine, tuberoses. What is her name? The name of a city. Sofia.”
The prose is spare and the book is written in short vignettes, each about some aspect of their life together or their belief system. As the night progresses, Nina drinks wine, dozes occasionally, but mostly stays up and remembers and imagines their time together. Theirs was a great love and one that has withstood the test of time. Lily Tuck understands what it is like to be with one person for forty-two years. She understands great love and passion.
Interestingly, Ms. Tuck has borrowed information from some of the greatest mathematicians, logicians, physicists, and philosophers for this book: Pascal, Einstein, Wilczek, Erdos, Hofstadter, Hawking, and Feynman to name a few. Though the parts about physics and math were sometimes difficult for me to get my head around, they served nicely to illustrate the yin and yang of this marriage. This is a short and lovely book, an homage to a great love, now lost in real time, but forever present in Nina’s heart and mind.
|AMAZON READER RATING:||from 43 readers|
|PUBLISHER:||Atlantic Monthly Press; 1 edition (September 6, 2011)|
|AVAILABLE AS A KINDLE BOOK?||YES! Start Reading Now!|
|AUTHOR WEBSITE:||Wikipedia page on Lily Tuck|
|EXTRAS:||Reading Guide and Excerpt|
|MORE ON MOSTLYFICTION:||Read our review of:
Also by Lily Tuck:
- Interviewing Matisse, or the Woman Who Died Standing Up (1991)
- The Woman Who Walked on Water (1996)
- Siam Or the Woman Who Shot a Man (1999)
- Limbo, and Other Places I Have Lived (2002)
- The News From Paraguay (2004)Â
- I Married You for Happiness (September 2011)
- The House at Belle Fontaine: Stories (April 2013)