Here's that rarity: a short, piquant anthology on a subject of (almost) universal interest. Chasman and Jhee, Beacon editors, bring together highly personal pieces by 21 contemporary American writers (e.g., Barbara Ehrenreich, David Mamet, Willie Morris) offering some terrifically wry and insightful observations about how difficult it is to make a success of marriage and domestic life, given our culture of careerist individualism. Invariably, some silly and superficial me-oriented things also get said, as by memoirist Louise DeSalvo: "I have come to see the impulse towards adultery as the self's yearning to realize its latent potential." But for the most part, the reflections here appear to be the fruit of considerable thought following much emotional wear-and-tear. For example, Vivian Gornick writes of the alternating joys and sorrows of living alone; several other contributors depict scenes of love and loss, whether through a partner's infidelity, divorce, or death. The most moving piece, Mark Doty's "An Exile's Psalm," concerns the author's attempt both to mourn his long-time lover, who died of AIDS, and to exult in the unexpected joy of a new relationship. Many writers allude to adultery, potential or actual, liberating or tormented. Yet Chasman and Jhee have included not a single autobiographical essay on that most elusive and enviable feat, a relatively long and happy marriage; perhaps it was difficult to find a writer to describe such an experience. Still, the majority of men and women still feel they can defy the odds—why? Essayist Gerald Early replies, "Marriage, in its barbarous civility, in its impossible dependence and impossible expectation, assures one that in the vast meaninglessness of the world, one can . . . hope to find the true rudder of meaning, at last." Whether there's meaning to be found, or merely emotional coldness after a marital rift, love and marriage continue to fire the imagination, as this absorbing collection attests.
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