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I Married You for Happinessby Lily Tuck
Synopses & Reviews
Lily Tuck's new novel is the portrait of a complicated yet passionate marriage between an aspiring artist and a mathematician--the collision of two disparate worlds that bond to form a complex and enduring love.
I MARRIED YOU FOR HAPPINESS opens with the death of Nina's husband, Philip. He'd come home from work as usual, made a comment about napping before dinner, asked about her day, and spoke briefly of a faculty meeting, but Nina barely paid attention. Then when he didn't come down after she called him, she went up to the bedroom and found him lying in the floor, already gone. She calls her neighbor, a physician, who says that it was most likely sudden cardiac arrest. He offers to make phone calls and help with arrangements, but Nina asks him to leave them be for now. As she tucks Philip's lifeless body into bed and listens to the wind howl outside their bedroom window, drinking a full bottle of wine and wondering how to break the news to their only daughter, now grown and working out of state at an internet startup, Nina reminisces about their history and life together.
They met in Paris over forty years ago. She was working at a gallery and he was living in his aunts apartment. As we move through select vignettes and defining moments of their relationship, we're exposed to dark secrets and delirious joy. Traveling had been incredibly important to them both. During their courtship, they traveled around Paris, most notably to Belle Ile, where they continued to visit for the next twenty years and where they first met Jean-Marc, a man who raced sailboats and seduced Nina into a brief affair. He taught Philip how to sail, something Philip had become obsessed with as a boy even though (and perhaps because) he lived hundreds of miles from the sea. Despite the affair, Jean-Marc remained in their lives through the years, even visiting them in Massachusetts when their daughter Louise was a toddler.
Jean-Marc wasn't Nina's only infidelity. On a trip to visit Philip's aunt at her main home in the country, Nina was introduced to his cousin, Didier. Blatantly obvious with his flirting, both Philip and Didier's wife still didn't protest when Didier asked Nina to go for a walk with him. Once in a wooded area, he came on to Nina, grabbing her forcefully and pushing her to the ground. Though she resisted at first, when he began lifting her skirt, she eventually gave in and allowed him to have sex with her. It was a one-time thing, but it resulted in a pregnancy that she secretly had aborted, and when her severe migraines started soon after (they persist throughout the rest of her life), she was convinced it was punishment for her sins. Though Nina saw a psychologist to sort through her problems, she mostly fed him lies, too self-conscious even during sessions to reveal her most intimate fears and transgressions.
After they were married, and even after they have Louise, Philip and Nina continued to travel, and aside from brief mentions of Louise (her meningitis scare as a child, the math games she plays with her father, their contentious discussions over how she handles money and relationships as an adult), this is mostly what she recalls--the intimacies of their time away from everything else, such as when they honeymooned in Mexico and hiked to see hibernating monarch butterflies or when they rented a dammuso on Pantelleria for a week, making love, swimming in warm green inlets, and trying to rescue a stray dog. Philip's job as a mathematician allowed for business trips around the world, sometimes alone, though he never seemed to stray as Nina did. A solo trip to Hong Kong did make Nina suspicious of his hostess, Sophie--worldly, elegant, beautiful--but Philip's stories from this trip only reveal his clumsiness in breaking Sophie's china and his fervent interest in the exotic meals like Bird's Nest Soup and rooster testicles.
Throughout the novel, their life together is woven into complex mathematical theories that Philip attempts to teach his students, daughter, and Nina. Probability is a favorite subject of his, how it exists in math and applies to reality, to sports and relationships. For instance, both Nina and Philip were haunted by the odds of Philip's car accident when he was a young man, one that killed his female passenger, a woman called Iris. Philip rarely spoke about the accident and never revealed intimacies about Iris, a fact that drove Nina to create histories for the girl, imagined relationships and possible futures. Though she never quite came between them, Iris was a ghost that hovered above their marriage through the years. Philip sometimes seemed followed by tragedy--his brother also died young and his astrophysicist friend, Lorna, committed suicide. Still, Philip remained "calm, polite, and reasonable," (if somewhat lecturing and controlling) as Nina always described him, his life and its events rooted in the smooth lines of mathematics.
As night turns into the first day without her husband, Nina mentally prepares for her phone call to Louise and readies herself for Philips cremation—he wanted to be cast into the sea, And dont forget to throw my ashes to leeward otherwise theyll blow back in your face." But his passing has finally caught up with her and she begins to fall asleep, imagining (or perhaps truly witnessing?) an angel sweep through the bedroom door, scoop Nina into its arms, and fly out through the open window, high above the garden where Philip tends the flowers.
His hand is growing cold, still she holds it,” is how this riveting, deeply moving story of a forty-three year old marriage by National Book Award winner Lily Tuck begins. Unfolding over a single night, Nina sits at the bedside of her husband, Philip, whose sudden and unexpected death is the reason for her lonely vigil. Too shocked yet to grieve, she lets herself remember the defining moments of their long marriage, beginning with their first meeting in Paris. She is an artist, he a highly accomplished mathematician—it was a collision of two different worlds that merged to form an intricate and passionate love.
Slender, powerful, and utterly engaging, I Married You For Happiness is not only an elegant elegy to a man and a marriage, but also a meditation on the theory of probability and how chance can affect both a life and ones consideration of an afterlife.
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