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I MARRIED YOU FOR HAPPINESS by Lily Tuck

I MARRIED YOU FOR HAPPINESS

By Lily Tuck

Pub Date: Sept. 1st, 2011
ISBN: 978-0-8021-1991-9
Publisher: Atlantic Monthly

Using shards of memory, Tuck creates the portrait of a marriage in her latest, following the NBA winner The News from Paraguay (2004, etc.).

Nina and Philip have been married for 42 years. He’s a university mathematician, she’s an artist. His death is as quiet as the fall of a leaf. He returns to their Massachusetts home to rest before dinner. Nina finds him dead. Cardiac arrest, says her neighbor, an endocrinologist. Here Tuck suspends time, allowing Nina, during the night ahead, to sift through the memories and images from their life together. Tuck uses a loose variation of a binary, Hegelian model. On the one hand are the mathematical formulations spelled out by Philip in the lecture hall and over the dinner table; he’s a popular, witty teacher. Numbers represent logic and order; they are beyond time. In opposition are Nina’s memories, their wild disorder at the mercy of time. These are “the manifestations of the inner self," Nina’s reference to a Nathalie Sarraute novel she’s reading when Philip hits on her at a café in Paris, their first meeting. It is daring of Tuck to set their courtship in Paris, such well-trodden ground for young lovers. The result is a somewhat synthetic charm. What’s real, shockingly so, is Nina’s rape by Philip’s French cousin in a forest outside the city. Nina never told Philip about the rape or its consequence, a risky back-alley abortion; another secret was her one infidelity, a summer fling with a yachtsman in Brittany. Was Philip faithful to her? Nina doesn’t know, but she has a jealous temperament, an irritant among her many happy memories of lovemaking, meals and shared laughter. Another possible irritant, the contrast between Philip’s successful career and Nina’s failure to make it commercially, goes unaddressed, a disconcerting omission masked by exotic vacation travel writing.

Does the couple’s mutual happiness provide a Hegelian synthesis? Not quite, though Tuck’s crisp writing is a joy.