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Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Book Review: Husband and Wife

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Husband and Wife opens on a common domestic scene, but it's not tranquil. The baby sitter has arrived to attend to the two young children of Sarah Price and her husband, Nathan, as they prepare to go out for the evening. Sarah is searching for her husband's shoe and resisting the urge to go breastfeed her baby son when Nathan shatters this contained chaos. He confesses that his pending publication titled, Infidelity, holds somebasis in fact. He had an affair the previous year while attending a writers conference. Ironically, they are getting ready to attend the wedding of two of their closest friends.

When Sarah and Nathan met, they gravitated to each other. They shared a passion for the written word, him as a fiction writer and her as a poet. They explored the joys and difficulties of their art together. Then they married and had their first child, and then a second. Nathan continued to write while Sarah drifted away from her poetry into the role of mother and provider. She did not mind so much, or at least she believed that she didn't, until Nathan's tearful revelation as she hands him the missing shoe.

The pages that follow paint a lyrical exploration of the aftermath of infidelity. Stewart renders a believable and empathetic telling of Sarah's journey to reclaim her personal identity which she allowed to be subsumed by responsibility and self-doubt. She rediscovers her poetic voice and the thrill of writing by revisiting the path that she did not choose. This path is personified by Rajiv, a handsome filmmaker and college chum, who expressed deep affection for her several times, over several years. She always declined his advances and returned to Nathan. Did she make the right choice?

Stewart keeps this common story fresh with her well developed and quirky characters. Alternately sad, insightful and comical, the end result is a very real story that could be anyone's experience rather than the hyperbole that often accompanies tales about infidelity. The novel is also full of literary references made by the characters, several writers themselves. As a writer and a reader, I appreciated the additional depth provided by the references. Sometimes our words are not enough to express what we feel, and sometimes, someone else said it better first. Sarah uses the words of other writers to give depth to her own and when language fails her.

Stewart also gives a glimpse into Sarah's writing life. She inserts poems authored by Sarah into the text as she rediscovers her ability to write. Nathan's writing also makes an appearance as a short story. Stewart accomplishes this without breaking the rhythm and flow of the novel. Husband and Wife almost reads as a poem itself; it has a cadence, is told in three parts or stanzas, and loops back beautifully to the opening of the book, just before it ends.

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