True love never runs smooth according to these essays, which could pass as a memoir of the author’s own marriage.
Calhoun made her well-received debut with St. Marks Is Dead (2015), an impressive volume of journalistic research that blended the historical with the personal. This is a slighter work, though not the sort that rock critics would call a sophomore slump. Title aside, this will resonate most strongly not with those about to get married but with those who have been married awhile, even happily so, but who deal with the sort of struggles and tensions that all married couples do. After a fight with her husband, when Calhoun asked her mother the key to staying married, she received the reply: “ ‘You don’t get divorced.’ At the time, I thought her response flip, but now I consider it wise.” A long-married woman told her, “ ‘the first twenty years are the hardest’….At the time I thought she was joking. She was not.” Having yet to hit the 20-year mark in a marriage that appears stable, the author approaches her subject not as the voice of wisdom and experience but as someone in the same trenches who can comfort her married readers that they are not alone. She still feels (and occasionally submits to) strong attractions to the opposite gender, and she resents it when her husband does as well. When she writes of a book-tour encounter, “we’d made out, but not too much—unless you think that anything when you’re married to someone else is too much, in which case this was definitely way too much,” readers may wonder about Calhoun’s maturity. But she’s engaging and all-too-human, chronicling the strains of being together, being apart, sharing a rental car, screwing up finances, raising a son, and somehow staying together in spite of (and maybe because of) it all.
Calhoun ends with a toast that she actually would give, and it’s wise and lovely.