An Unfinished Marriage. Anderson, Joan. Broadway Books, New York (0767908716) 2002.
I have never really read much about relationships or marriage. I have read a fair amount of biographies and memoirs, but never a memoir about a marriage and certainly not one from the woman’s point of view. However, I find myself wanting to know more about other people’s relationships and marriages, the ups, the downs, the trials and tribulations. But most of all how they came out of it on the other side with the relationship or marriage intact and often stronger.
In A Year by the Sea, Anderson, an empty nester, tells her story of “running away” from her marriage and living alone in her family’s summer cottage on Cape Cod. It is a year of soul searching, growth and renewal. A year in which she reconnects with her true and authentic self.
An Unfinished Marriage is the story of the struggle of Joan and her husband, Robin, to reconnect. He retires from his job and moves to Cape Cod seeking a reconcilliation. She feels wild and free after her year and is used to and happy doing things on her own and not having to answer to anyone or even communicate her plans for the day to anyone.
I recall asking my uncle for marital advice before heading down the aisle. He handed me a passage from The Prophet in which Kahlil Gibran likens matrimony to the oak and the cypress trees: “Stand together, yet not too near – for the pillars of the temple stand apart and the oak and the cypress grow not in each other’s shadow.” Perhaps, unknowinly, I tok the prophet’s advice when I ran away from home last year. The institution of marriage had permeated my very being; my focus was always on “us,” so that I became incapable of being conscious of “me.” Devoted as I was to the role of good wife and helpmate, I worked mostly in my husband’s shadow, until a sort of toxicity set in that poisoned the air we breathed. By the time I left, we had become more like incestuous siblings than husband and wife.
I suppose that is why we now seem to be giving each other room, fighting against a life of routine, facing each other with both detachment and cautious acceptance….
It is a struggle because they have been apart for a year. Robin struggles with not having a job to go to daily. Then Joan, the consummate caregiver, is injured and Robin must become the caregiver. And then they decide to remodel and expand the cottage since they will both be living there together year round and expecting visits from their two sons and their wives.
There is much drama and many lessons to be learned. Anderson is transparent and an excellent writer. She has an uncanny way of capturing conversations and using them to illuminate her thoughts and feelings.
I appreciate this book. My parents divorced. Both my aunts and my uncle on my mother’s side divorced, though my uncle remarried years ago and is still married. Most of our friends, siblings and cousins have divorced at least once or have never married, though some of those have been in long term relationships. My wife’s parents have been married for more than fifty years. So, there are few examples of long marriages that have survived the travails in our immediate environ and this books gives me another glimpse of that and what it takes to make it happen.
I’ll leave it to you to read An Unfinished Marriage and see how it turns out for Joan and Robin. Do yourself a favor, though Anderson does give some history of her year alone in this book, you’ll understand this one better if you first read A Year by the Sea.
Oh, by the way, I found another good review of An Unfinished Marriage over on Cynthia Harrison’s blog.