MATE IN THREE by Bernice Rubens


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First published in Britain in 1966, this grim, almost caustic portrait of a marriage is one of the early efforts of a writer known for her explorations of the Jewish experience in England (Brothers, 1984) and of hapless souls in love (I Sent a Letter to my Love, 1978). Here, the principal characters--Jack Millar and his long-suffering wife Ruth--are once again Jewish and hapless, but whether their union has much to do with love is a point open to debate. Jack comes from upwardly-mobile parents, ÉmigrÉs from Germany intent on obscuring their religious background, and Ruth from a family of warm, traditional Jews. They marry ""what they considered their own deepest inadequacy, hers for freedom, his for inclusion,"" and proceed to make each other's lives unbearable. For Jack, love is impossible unless it comes about as a reaction against something he hates--first his mother, then a shallow, but sexy woman with whom he carries on before his wife's eyes. In despair, Ruth accepts a free trip to South Africa, where she and Jack fall in with an ugly group of mate-swapping white South Africans, and tour a township, where they find themselves singing Christmas carols with a family of blacks. Jack searches for puzzle pieces to his destructive personality, lands in jail for pro-black graffitti writing, but returns to England still smoldering with self-loathing, still taking it out on his wife. While Rubens nimbly covers the treacherous terrain of a love-hate relationship with one's spouse and heritage, her tone is lugubrious, her characters so hateful or helpless that even she seems hard-pressed to find ironic humor in their plight--making this a less balanced book than its predecessors and one for only died-in-the-wool Rubens fans.

Pub Date: Aug. 1st, 1987
Publisher: Hamish Hamilton--dist. by David & Charles