“I’m angry at you because you don’t know why I’m angry at you, she said. I’m not really angry, I’m disappointed . . . Invisible flames emanated from her on all sides.”
Few American writers have captured the ambiguities of modern woman as richly as Baumbach (Seven Wives, 1998, etc.), who here attempts a fictional memoir about his sexual ties—in his most distilled version of the babble of the sexes. All women in B’s tale share the same impossible, totally unstable, but absolutely assured character. Is theirs a response to B’s fear of intimacy? B is a writer whose first wife (a child bride) left him after nine months. After seven years, he and wife 2 (who had “small tolerance for imperfection”) had thoroughly trashed all intimacy. “Wife 3, before we were married, at least, tended to see me in the most generous light, which gave me a renewed sense of pleasure in myself . . . I was in love with Wife 3, who aside from being a little crazy, seemed almost perfect to me. . . You see, I had to go through the disappointment and grief of two marriages that didn’t count to get to the one I was meant to have.” But after 16 years, she dumps him for someone else. He can understand that in the abstract (“Hadn’t I left Wife 2 because I also preferred someone else?”). Poetic justice, fair enough. But he’s heartbroken for two years and attends Heartbreak Anonymous meetings, leading him into more affairs. When he speaks of all this during a talk at the Femmes Club, in the book’s funniest scene, he’s pelted with invective, fruit, and vegetables. When women spend hours chewing B to rags, dismissing him utterly, then press their bodies to his to get him to stay overnight, is he an imbecile to stay?
Amusing but short of hilarity: too few pages, though immensely detailed, build and release.