Two novellas chronicle middle-age marriage in the author’s native Brooklyn.
Though Lopate (American Movie Critics, 2006, etc.) is better known for nonfiction in general, and personal essays in particular, his return to fiction proves to be an urbane, sophisticated pleasure. “The Stoic’s Marriage,” the first and longer of the two pieces, takes the form of a diary of a Castilian man who considers himself a philosophic intellectual but comes across as a prig. His life seems to be something he endures rather than enjoys, until the failing health of his mother (with whom he lives) brings a lusciously erotic Filipina into his house, his life and ultimately his bed. Though he wildly idealizes her at the outset, the reader assumes that a man who knows so much from books but so little of the world is headed for a fall. “Before I met her, my life was barren…,” he ruminates. “Now it is chaotic, hellish, furious, and fecund.” As marital complications find his life teetering between tragedy and farce, he tries to reconcile his academic stoicism with the sexual pleasure to which he’d become accustomed, if not addicted. Shorter by half, “Eleanor, or, The Second Marriage” has a very different tone and format, as the third-person narration details the adjustments made by Frank and Eleanor (no Roosevelt associations), who were both hipsters in their earlier days but who have domesticated themselves into what is the second marriage for each. Eleanor was the wilder one, the woman whom every man she met desired, yet she has somehow settled for a husband who negotiates pot deals with his son and then can’t decide whether he’s getting high or suffering a heart attack. After a friend who still has a crush on Eleanor suggests that “lasting love is just a cultural delusion,” a dinner party brings mirth and psychological mayhem to the household, threatening the shaky foundations of the marriage.
A book that explores serious relationships—between men and women, head and heart, love and lust—with a light touch.