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CLEAVING by Dennis Covington


The Story of a Marriage

by Dennis Covington & Vicki Covington

Pub Date: May 1st, 1999
ISBN: 0-86547-548-2
Publisher: North Point/Farrar, Straus and Giroux

In a bizarre mixture of joint autobiography and sociology, occasionally complemented by detailed instructions on well-drilling, the Covington writer/spouse duo rehashes about 20 years of their stormy, messy married life. The tale of Vicki and Dennis offers no theme of general interest and is perhaps just as trivial or as original as the life story of any random passer-by. The difference here lies in a relatively sophisticated narrative technique that alternates the voices of husband and wife, each of whom in turn provides an individual interpretation of the same events. Vicki’s account is emotionally charged, while Dennis sticks to a more balanced and precise journalistic manner. Natives of Alabama, where they wind up again after several brief sojourns elsewhere, the couple have had a lifestyle mÇlange of hippie and pseudobohemian, which seems to defy their parents’ basic southern values. Drugs, alcoholism, obsessive-compulsive disorder, depression, and adultery, punctuated by a mÇnage Ö trois with one of Dennis’s fellow college professors, mix to form a pretty nauseating cocktail of the Covingtons’ earlier married life. Just when Vicki’s maternal instinct awakens, she is afflicted with an ectopic pregnancy, years of infertility treatment, eventual pregnancy by her husband’s buddy, and a subsequent abortion. She finally gives birth to two of Dennis’s daughters, their literary careers take off, and their life normalizes to a certain extent, although extramarital affairs remain omnipresent. The Covingtons’ return to the Southern Baptist Church appears as abrupt and unconvincing as their pathetic urge to drill water wells in El Salvador to satiate their “spiritual thirst.” The final chapters of the book feature frequent quotations from the Bible and pop songs, melodramatic talk of forgiveness, and sadomasochistic confessions the two make to each other about their respective lovers. One hopes that the story of the Covingtons’ “crimes and misdemeanors” will prove therapeutic for the authors, as the readers will find it neither edifying nor amusing. (Author tour)