Title: I Married You for Happiness
Author: Lily Tuck
Publisher: Atlantic Monthly Press (2011)
Rating: 2 stars
I Married You for Happiness is more like a collection of stream of consciousness poetry (is that a thing?) than a novel. It begins with Philip’s death. Nina spends the night by his side recollecting moments of their history together, which include infidelities, insecurities, love, anger, joy, intimacies, pretty much what you would expect of a marriage lasting 40+ years.
I Married You is told in very short memories, some only one or two lines long, others a few paragraphs. It is hard to distinguish the present day from memory and memory rooted in truth from constructed memory. Nina is an extremely unreliable narrator, and one that I couldn’t connect with at all. She is cold and reserved. Her memories paint herself in a terrible light. She does make an interesting connection between life, mathematics (Philip was a math professor), and the afterlife. Philip believes everything can be explained through math, but Nina is less sure. Though she seems intrigued by his explanations and logic, as an artist her beliefs naturally collide with his. I liked this idea that Nina explores throughout the novel that you can never REALLY know the person you love. They will always be mysterious in some way and you will always somehow elude them.
However, after reading I asked myself what was the point? Nothing happens in the story. We have no idea how Nina will cope with Philip’s death or how her life will turn out now that he’s gone. I found this very frustrating! Also, I thought that the mechanics were more the point of the story, which I can’t stand. By mechanics I mean the structure of the stream of consciousness memories. I could tell that Tuck took great pleasure in how she connected the memories, and they are very well done. However, when the art of the story is more about it’s craft than the story itself, I can’t help but be like WHY did I just waste my time with that. The novel is more like a writing assignment written solely to impress your professor–and all of the other students are like WTF.
Clearly, I didn’t love this novel. However, Lily Tuck is a critically acclaimed writer and not necessarily one to be “written off” :) because of one plot-less book.