Tuesday, April 1, 2008


Tolstoy Lied: A Love Story by Rachel Kadish kind of did a number on me. I finished it on the last day of my trip, when I was feeling sort of tired and a little sick. So: reading, but with vulnerabilities. The novel's heroine is a literature professor who wants to debunk Tolstoy's line from Anna Karenina: "Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way." She says that would mean that "a person must be unhappy in order to be interesting." So she tells us her engaging love story, which is really very well done. It feels so true -- exciting but not romanticized. A fleshy sort of love story, with the realness intact. She follows it past the early euphoria, through rough patches and a separation and back to equilibrium. So as in life, it's a big old log flume ride, and you go for it, but spend a lot of time wondering if it's worth the stress. In the meantime, there's great stuff about academic politics and good secondary characters. Just an enjoyable read.

The problem for me is that she begins as a happy and contented single woman. Not shunning romantic encounters but not actively seeking them either. Good naturedly fending off efforts by friends and family to get her paired off. She got my hopes up that we might somehow return to happy singlehood, instead of ending up with, as Bridget Jones calls them, the smug marrieds (present company excluded, of course, my dear, dear readers). Which is where everybody always ends up, now and forever, world without end amen. She winds up her story with the "what I've learned" chapter, which she has earned. But there's an air of "now that I love, I'm doing life's real work" that grates. Her lover's proposal of marriage represented an invitation to "stop watching the mess of human desire from the shoreline."

Sigh. I know, it said "love story" right on the cover. What did I expect? I'm such a sponge -- I absorb all these absurd messages and take them to heart. What am I, 13 years old? I can't think for myself? But these repeated demonstrations of how I am living but half a life in my singledom are so very, very tiring. Love can kiss my ass.

Still: Yay!


Night Editor said...

I hear you. Maybe you'll want to check out this new book: "The New Single Woman," by E. Kay Trimburger, from Beacon Press. The blurbs:

"The Good News from Planet Singleton is that despite overwhelming cultural messages to the contrary, it's possible for women to live happily ever after alone . . . Trimberger's research skills are impressive and her message clear."
-Publishers Weekly

"This fascinating study is the perfect antidote to the onslaught of books telling women to marry or be miserable. The women Trimberger depicts have complex and interesting lives enriched by . . . children, family, lovers, and most of all friends. Must reading for the single, the coupled, and everyone in between."
-Katha Pollitt

Sassmaster said...

Awesome! Thanks NE

One Heart Dancing said...

My favorite mountain lodge (Shadowcliff.org--look it up!), is stuffed with bookshelves stuffed with old old books. Last time, I found one called

Living Alone and Liking It.

It's from some pre-feminist era, the 1940s or 1950s, and has line drawings that remind me of James Thurber. The pages I glanced at were funny and I was all ready to settle down with this woman bucking the gotta-marry trend way back then ... until I saw a clipping stuck in the front cover:

She got married.


One Heart Dancing said...

PS I like your writing.