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Portrait of a Marriage

by John Donatich

Pub Date: Jan. 1st, 2005
ISBN: 0-312-32653-X
Publisher: St. Martin's

Impending fatherhood takes publishing executive Donatich into an exploratory thicket of thoughts, concerns, and ideas.

In fluid and easy-reading prose, even though the author wears his erudition on his sleeve with apt quotes from a panoply of writers, Donatich, in a purely subjective and self-interrogative way, expresses his thoughts on becoming a father. “The predicaments of manhood” become immediately clear when Donatich gets fired from his job just eight hours after his wife gives birth (he’s now the director of Yale University Press; she’s the literary agent Betsy Lerner). Donatich gathers that “fatherhood calls for indulgence and dependence as well as discipline and providing” and that “the new father must learn to position himself next to his child’s day-to-day life, instead of its iconic markers.” This awareness sends him back in thought to the world of his immigrant family and to his own youth of peculiarities and cultishness: “imperial, competitive, proud, territorial, politically incorrect. . . very much like a religion. The very qualities that embarrassed me as a kid now seem a privilege.” Nothing here is mawkish, though, and Donatich is as hard on his upbringing as he is on his presumptions to the demands of fatherhood: “more complex than uncertainty, less adventurous than dissidence, ambivalence is a mode of being contrary that has neither the credulity of rebellion nor the alibi of cynicism.” After the miscarriages and the breakdowns, he writes convincingly of striving to be the brick, the stabilizer, the heater in the basement whose cycles provide warmth. Acceptance is bittersweet, “a deliberate tolerance for the dull ache of long-term loving.” But once he gets the first whiff of his daughter, all else but her becomes a moot point.

A father in the making who’s Spock-like as he hews to the intuitive, though the intuition is informed by Neruda and Emerson, Kirkegaard and Walter Benjamin, the tragicomic ironists of old Eastern Europe—and the sheer pleasure of Marvin Gaye.