Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Terrific Tuesday Releases: I Married You For Happiness by Lily Tuck

 A few months ago I attended BEA  (that's BookExpo America) in NYC, and though most of my time was spent in appointments with publicists and marketing people at various publishers, I did manage to carry away with me a select number of galleys.  And for the first time in my history of attending trade shows, I walked away with only what I could carry in one small Envirosax bag, but I suppose that is neither here nor there.  

I finished reading Lily Tuck's novel one morning over breakfast shortly after BEA and I thought it was just wonderful.  I had never read any of her work before, though her name was vaguely familiar to me when I picked up the book at the Grove/Atlantic booth from Deb Seager.  She won the National Book Award for her novel The News from Paraguay and was shortlisted for the PEN/Faulkner Award for SiamIf, like me, you're not already familiar with Tuck's work, please do yourself a favor and check it out--I Married You For Happiness debuts today!

What is the probability that a husband will arrive home from work in good health, yet die of heart failure before dinner?  How does one measure a marriage or evaluate a memory?  In this novel, Tuck attempts to answer all of these questions in a most poignant way.  When Philip dies during a pre-prandial nap, Nina keeps quiet vigil with his body through the night, flooded by memories of their marriage ranging from mundane moments (playing tennis, taking a Sunday drive) to the most pivotal ones (the day they met, the birth of their daughter, her brief affair).  Nina's artistic nature is contrapuntal to Philip's logical one, and her fascinating narrative detours into his class lectures on probability & statistics, together with her struggles to understand the fundamental differences in the man she loves, reveal their relationship to be as intricate and beautiful as any mathematical theorem. I think if I had to choose one word to describe I Married You For Happiness, it would be "intimate," for above all, this book is a private meditation on Nina's and Philip's life together, and there were times I felt it would be more proper to avert my gaze than to continue reading.  And yet Tuck's prose is so lovely, and the transitions between the present vigil and the past memories so seamless, that I could not look away.  

A random, parting thought: why do the two chairs on the cover seem to have two different sources of light to cast shadows at such divergent angles, yet only cast one shadow, which indicates a single light source?  Is this bad photoshopping by the book's designer?  Is it indicative of Philip & Nina's divergent lives?  Discuss...


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