Tuesday, July 28, 2015

HAVE YOU READ...The Daylight Marriage?

The Daylight Marriage by Heidi Pitlor
Algonquin Books
May 15, 2015

I finished this brief offering a while back (256 pages, small binding) and have mixed feelings. I didn't hate it and I didn't love it, and stuck between the two is the worst place to be. I'm going to muse a little about my thoughts about and issues with it and those of you who have read it (please, let there be someone?) push me over to one side or the other: agree, straighten me out, enlighten me, tell me what I missed or what I'm spot on about.

For those of you who haven't picked it up and are thinking about it, here's the pitch:

Lovell and Hannah are married with two kids, almost-15-year-old Janine and 8-year-old Ethan. Lovell studies the impact of global warming on hurricanes, a workaholic who gets so engrossed in his work he has virtually no clue what's going on under his own roof.

This doesn't stop him from griping at Hannah for everything she's doing wrong: paying bills late, forgetting to get the car tuned, not taking out the recycling. In his (limited) defense, Hannah also seems somewhat disconnected from her life. Their arguments are frequent and usually start over something minimal on the surface. One night things go too far, horrible things are said by both parties, and after shrinking from a perceived physical threat, Hannah leaves the house.

Hannah leaving after an argument is not new, but this time it appears she's gone missing. Lovell reports her disappearance to the police and the investigation proceeds through the course of the book, leaving Lovell to run the house and raise two kids he seems to know little about.

I really liked the structure of the book, which looks back through Lovell and Hannah's courtship (weird as it was), eventual marriage, and life together, set against the backdrop of Hannah's disappearance and its impact. That impact felt very odd to me. Lovell is a shitty father, there's no two ways about that, but he almost seemed resigned to his failure rather than taking the opportunity to step up his game.

Janine goes a bit off the deep end, while Ethan is almost an afterthought, and their reactions to their mother's disappearance never seem fraught with much fear or emotion. It almost felt like the book wasn't long enough to deal with them sufficiently and they felt incomplete.

Lovell expressed concern over Hannah's fate, but it didn't seem urgent to me. Frankly, it came off as the lack of real concern from someone who knows what happened to their disappeared spouse, so I was happy to see the plot didn't fall into the cliche (as true to life as it may be) of 'husband as suspect.'

None of the characters evoked any sympathy or empathy. I don't have to like my characters to enjoy a book, but I need to care about them and/or their plight; I need something to hang my emotional hat on. I kept reading because the story of Hannah's disappearance was interesting, I wanted to see how it turned out, and, to be honest, because the book was short, not because I was worried for or cared about the characters.

I did finish the book and it kept me turning the pages, but it was a slow burn for me. This is not a term I use negatively, I'm all for a good slow burn. But I was surprised to subsequently read blurbs about how hypnotic and fast-paced it was. About the dread it inspired. I didn't get any of that emotion from it and I'm not sure what I saw differently from those who did.

I think one of the messages of The Daylight Marriage has to do with not knowing what you've got until it's gone or goes missing. But if/when Lovell and Hannah were together again, I have no doubt they would have been in exactly the same horrible married state they were in before she went missing. It wasn't/wouldn't have been a marriage rediscovered, but a marriage that never should have been in the first place.

If you have read The Daylight Marriage, did you come away with a completely different experience than I did? I hope so, because I'd love to hear an interpretation that convinces me I just missed or didn't get something.

If you haven't read it, well, I guess after all of the above I can't really urge you to do so, and yet it wasn't a bad book. It is obviously a hypnotic, dread-inducing read for some. Which is, really, the best thing about books, that the reading experience is unique to each reader. So I'd still love for you to read it and let me know your thoughts if the truly interesting plot captures your fancy.

Fair warning: I've tried to keep this piece spoiler-free, but if it does spark a conversation in the comments, I'm guessing they will get a bit spoilery, so you might want to avoid reading them unless and until you've read the book. Unless you don't care and just want to read good book arguing.

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About Malcolm Avenue Review

I was lucky enough to be born and raised in a nifty, oak-shaded ranch house on Malcolm Avenue, a wide-laned residential street with little through traffic, located amid the foothills of Northern California. It was on that street and in that house I learned most of my adolescent life lessons, and many grown-up ones to boot. Malcolm Avenue was "home" for more than thirty years.

It was on Malcolm Avenue, through and with my family and the other families that made up our neighborhood of characters, that I first learned about and gained an appreciation for the things I continue to love the most to this day: music, animals, photography, sports, television/movies and, of course, books.

I owe a debt of gratitude to that life on Malcolm Avenue. It gave me a sense of community and friendship, support and adventure. For better and worse, life on that street likely had the biggest impact on the person I've become. So this blog, and the things I write here, are all, at their base level, a little bit of a love letter to Malcolm Avenue.


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