Saturday, May 14, 2011

Husband and Wife: A Novel by Leah Stewart

From back of book:

Sarah Price has never regretted trading her MFA for a steady job so that her husband, Nathan, could write fiction.  But at age thirty-five, her world is turned upside-down by a shocking revelation: Nathan's upcoming novel, Infidelity, is based on fact.  Reeling from his betrayal, Sarah is plagued by dark questions.  How well does she really know her husband?  More important, how well does she know herself?

For answers, Sarah looks back to her artistic twentysomething self to try and understand what exactly happened to her dreams.  And so begins her quest to discover which version of herself is the essential one - the artist, wife, mother, or someone else entirely - an eye-opening journey that leads Sarah's hundreds of miles away from her marriage and back to herself.

My Thoughts:

Marriage is complicated.  Extramarital affairs just add to the complication.  And the past, well that can be a complication all on its own.  In Leah Stewart's novel, Husband and Wife, we find ourselves introduced to Sarah and Nathan, a married couple with two children.  She brings home the bacon, while he stays home to fry it - well, he also writes books and takes care of their kids.  In fact, his latest book is set to be a best seller, which should be good news.  Except that this book is about infidelity (that's the title of the book) and according to Nathan its based on his own extramarital affair.  He tells his wife this fact on the night of their best friends' wedding, where they are set to give a toast all about marital bliss.  Stunned at this revelation, all Sarah can think of is that they have a wedding to attend.  From this point on we are witness to the topsy-turvy whirl of emotions that Sarah undergoes as she struggles to understand what happened to Nathan, their marriage and her sense of self.

This is a novel that explores what happens when you find out that your spouse has cheated on you.  How do you react to such news?  Who do you blame?  Why did this happen?  What are your options - separation, divorce, stay married?  All of these questions run through Sarah's head as she decides to pretend it never happened, then decides to throw her husband out of the house, and finally decides to take a road trip with her kids.  We are privy to all of Sarah's thoughts and actions, whether they be bad or good.  We read about Sarah feeling guilty for leaving her children alone so that she can take long drives in the middle of the night.  We read about Sarah kissing her husband's best friend.  We read about Sarah learning that her husband's mistress will be in town the exact same weekend he suggested that she should take the kids and get away for a few days.  We learn about Sarah's life as a grad student in Austin, Texas where she smoked pot and planned on becoming  a poet.  We learn about the fact that Nathan resents the changes Sarah has made - such as, maintaining a nine to five job instead of writing poetry, no longer reading books or discussing art house films and instead choosing Spider Man 2 as her favorite movie.  We also learn about Rajiv and the fact that he has always been a little in love with Sarah and continues to keep in contact with her.

In fact, being that this book is from Sarah's perspective, we learn quite a few things about Sarah's life and are able to gain a better understanding as to why this betrayal has allowed her to take a closer look at the choices she made throughout her life.   Recognizing how much of herself she has sacrificed in order to provide for her family has not only affected her marital life, but also her sense of self (her identity).  Once passionate about poetry, Sarah realizes that she has not written a poem in years and begins to question why exactly that is.  What has prevented her from creating poems? Why has she allowed herself to stop indulging in a passion that was once a huge part of her life?  Why did she choose to let Nathan continue to pursue his love of writing, whilst she gave up hers?

By the end of the book, you may or may not agree with some of the choices that Sarah has made along the way, but you do understand how she got to where she is.  You find yourself wondering what will happen next for this couple and their kids - will they ever be happy again?  Will they allow their past mistakes to remain in the past?  Will Sarah write poetry again?

I don't want to reveal everything that happens in the book, because I don't want to spoil the story for you.  Suffice it to say that the ending was what I expected.  Overall, this is definitely a book I would recommend to anyone who enjoys reading contemporary fiction, specifically women's fiction.  Its a book about betrayal and the ways in which one struggles to deal with its aftermath.  The writing is solid and emotive and allows you to easily connect with Sarah.  The story is filled with details from the past and present that hold your attention throughout.  And the characters, whether they be peripheral or center stage, are engaging and memorable.  This is a book that has left me wondering so many things about marriage and the concept of identity and self.  Such an intriguing read - hope you check it out!

Thanks so much to TLC Book Tours for asking me to participate in this tour of Leah Stewart's, Husband and Wife.  


Bellezza said...

This has always been a subject which fascinates me; I don't know why I have this kind of bizarre interest in affairs as I believe in faithfulness with all my heart. I guess it's the questions you brought up which I tend to mull around in my mind. Plus, relationships are always interesting to think about...the successful ones as well as the hurtful ones.

Wallace said...

I've heard mixed things about this book. It does sound heavy, though. It's definitely an interesting topic.

Nadia said...

Bellezza, me too! Definitely an interesting topic to read about.

Wallace, it was heavy to read at times, because how can you not get bogged down in Sarah's sadness?

Lisa said...

This one sounds like it would make a great book club selection, lots to talk about.

Anonymous said...

I can't imagine being in the main character's shoes ... but of course I'm sure Sarah couldn't have imagined it until it actually happened to her. I'm interested to see how she works though this so I'll definitely have to give this book a shot.

Thanks for being on the tour

Nadia said...

Lisa, it would definitely be a great book club book - so much to discuss!

heathertlc, me either! Definitely check it out - its gives you a lot to think about it. And thanks to you and TLC for having me on the tour :)

Cat said...

Thanks for reviewing this! A friend of mine had picked it up a couple months ago and I never remembered to ask her how she liked it - and now she's in Norway on vacation! It does sound like a bit of a downer, esp since I'm getting married this year, which might be why I haven't picked it up yet. But it's good to know that the writing is solid and the story engaging enough to keep you going.

Nadia said...

zeteticat, Congrats on the impending nuptials - how exciting!! I'd wait to read this one then, because what bride-to-be wants to read about an unhappy marriage and infidelity, right? However, at some point (like several years from now) give it a go.