OneMansView, February 06, 2010
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Is it asking too much? (4.25*s)
In this short novel, the author is almost entirely concerned with exploring the distress and doubt that a man can feel upon reaching his final day with his wife and family before he almost certainly will carry out a plan to leave them the next morning, with no warning, just a note - the book’s first line: “It is the saddest night, for I am leaving and not coming back.” The book consists of scattered, very sharp observations on marriage, women, desire, life, etc as the narrator looks back across his life in random fashion, focusing on relationships. The book does not necessarily promote a continual search for a perfect relationship, but it is a critical look at the trade-offs and realities, often unexamined, of marriage.
Both the narrator and his wife Susan are smart, capable people – he being a screenwriter and she working in book publishing. Their facility with words hardly extends to their marriage, as it is beset with misunderstandings, pettiness, carping, detachment, and the like. On the surface, they have a comfortable existence, his wife being the epitome of efficiency, even strength; however, despite that “at home I don’t feel at home … there is desperation in her activity.”
Though this move has been contemplated for months, the narrator turns philosophical, reviewing his reasoning, reconfirming his justifications for leaving. For him women represent a chance to “start afresh,” but a new relationship is not a casual endeavor. To touch another’s body, “to put your mouth against another’s – what a commitment that is!” How can one disavow such possibilities? He asks, “Is it too much to want a tender and complete intimacy? Is it too much to want to sleep in someone’s willing arms?”
He recognizes the radical, unsettling implications of desire: “How unsettling is desire! That devil never sleeps or keeps still.” Once desire takes over one’s life, where does it end? “Surely you can’t constantly be replacing people who don’t provide what you need” Even his latest fling with much-younger, punker Nina, who caused a “violent jolt” whenever they met, has ended. “What makes me think I should have what I want?
But can one really ignore fundamental incompatibilities? He knows that “Susan and I cannot make one another happy.” He doesn’t want to openly admit that he actually does not want to love Susan, even reluctantly going to a marital counselor with her to avoid devastating them both. Despite the unhappiness, even on his last night he looks for some sign from Susan that he can remain with her and the boys, a tender gesture, something.
This book could be dismissed rather easily. The narrator’s obsessions and weaknesses are scarcely worthy of concern. Many marriages survive in similar circumstances, although at what costs? On the other hand, the book may be regarded as a sharp, even painful, look at contemporary marriage, perhaps the human condition, and the dilemmas that it can present.