"The person, be it gentleman or lady, who has not pleasure in a good novel, must be intolerably stupid." — Jane Austen, Northanger Abbey

Sunday, February 20, 2011

This Is Not The Story You Think It Is: A Season of Unlikely Happiness by Laura Munson

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Summary: When Laura Munson's husband asks for a divorce, she refuses.

This was a terrible book. Why did I finish it? The same reason why people rubberneck at gruesome accidents on the side of the road.

I requested this book from the library after the husband of a friend of mine told her he wanted to move out. Was there any way she could avoid a divorce? This woman did. Maybe her ideas would work for my friend.

Aspiring author Laura Munson and her husband live in the wilds of Montana struggling with money, raising two tweens and relying on their elderly parents for money, vacations and trips to find themselves. Then one day:
“I don’t love you anymore. I’m not sure I ever did.”
His words came at me like a speeding fist, like a sucker punch, yet somehow in that moment I was able to duck. And once I recovered and composed myself, I managed to say, “I don’t buy it.” Because I didn’t.
He drew back in surprise. Apparently he’d expected me to burst into tears, to rage at him, to threaten him with a custody battle. Or beg him to change his mind….I really wanted to fight. To rage. To cry. But I didn’t.
Instead, a shroud of calm enveloped me, and I repeated those words: “I don’t buy it.”
You see, I’d recently committed to a non-negotiable understanding with myself. I’d committed to “The End of Suffering.” I’d…decided to take responsibility for my own happiness. And I mean all of it.
From the way she describes their marriage and early courtship, Laura Munson was obviously the pursuer and a spoiled little rich kid accustomed to getting whatever she wanted. Then her husband tells her they're moving to Montana. She goes along with it, because she doesn't want to upset him.

Yet when her husband says he wants a divorce, she refuses and doesn't engage him in his temper tantrum, as she equates it, insisting that she knows what he needs better than he does. Instead of allowing him to leave their marriage, she gets him helicopter lessons and suggests that he go on an Australian walkabout.  She seemed so smug and condescending, staying at home and keeping the home fires burning while her husband goes out drinking and comes home late, if he even comes back at all.
I think I'm a friggin' rock. I want to be married to me. 
My biggest complaint about this book is that she is living a lie, daily, but instead calls it being reasonable. While she's thinking,
"Grow the fuck up. These are problems of privilege. You're lucky you even have a family to play around with. A house to want to leave. A wife not to love. Skiing, my ass. Fuck off. This is a time to practice gratitude. Not to stay out all night, partying your ass off like a twenty-year-old. Grow up!" But instead I say, "Take a vacation. Go somewhere. Take care of yourself."
The dichotomy between how she says she feels and what she actually says seem like the worst kind of self-delusion, not happiness. I feel so bad for her kids, who watch their mother lie to herself and to them and their father abandon her and them.
I am not in denial if I keep my mouth shut, as long as I sweep those thoughts off the front porch of my mind.
She says she loves her husband, but I honestly didn't understand why. He seems like a lazy, neglectful asshole with a Peter Pan complex. Even her therapist asks for clarity. Her husband is NEVER mentioned by name, he's only referred to as "he" or "my husband."

I accept that most memoir authors take a certain amount of liberty with their truth, seeing their world and retelling it through their eyes, but I found actual contradictions within the same chapter. On fourth of July, her family's biggest holiday, she calls her husband at three o'clock to plan buying fireworks together. She tries for the next fifteen minutes with no answer and so they all go home.
We spend the next few hours playing a dice game called Farkle on the screen porch. ... At four o'clock, on our way out the door, my husband calls.
There simply cannot be several hours and 45 minutes in the same time period. And this is her strongest memory, the example she uses to prove how patient she is and understanding. In the end, her husband decides to stay in the marriage, and tells her by getting satellite cable installed. No big declaration like, "I've been a jerk and I'm sorry." No, he gets satellite cable.

Laura Munson had 14 unpublished novels before she published this one. I've read other published novels by worse writers, and other memoirs by much better ones. I appreciate her need to be published, but the tale of a doormat who stays married to a jerk is not worth my time.

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