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Marry Me - John Updike

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Author: John Updike / Genre: Fiction

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      27.06.2006 11:17
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      Not my usual cup of tea, but worth a read anyway.

      Introduction
      In my quest to widen the type of books that I read, I borrowed this from a friend, who strongly recommended it. I’ve read some good reviews of John Updike’s books in the past, although have never read any of his work. Realising that he wrote Witches of Eastwick did make me wonder what I’d let myself in for and to be honest, until nearly half way through the book, I nearly gave up. Luckily for me, I didn’t, because I would have missed a good novel, if somewhat irritating at times.

      The story
      Marry Me is the story of two couples, Jerry and Ruth Conant and Richard and Sally Matthias. Both couples are successful, wealthy and have three children each. However, having reached comfort point, Jerry becomes restless and his eyes don’t have to wonder very far – to big, blonde Sally who is also fed up with her adulterous husband, Richard. Perhaps subconsciously knowing that Jerry is playing away, Ruth also has a brief affair with Sally’s husband, Richard.

      Eventually, Jerry realises he has fallen in love with Sally and wants to marry her and Sally’s feelings are reciprocal. Ruth is devastated and manages to get Jerry to agree to stop seeing Sally until the end of the summer, by which time if he is still in love with Sally, she will agree to give him a divorce. Jerry agrees, much to Sally’s horror. Can Ruth keep her marriage alive for long enough to save it? Or is it the end of her marriage.

      The characters
      Jerry and Ruth, Richard and Sally are the main letdowns to this novel. Jerry begins an affair with Sally because he is bored, although he is happy to keep both women tagging along until he makes his mind up. He is quick to blame Richard for his shortcomings, without accepting that perhaps he is also partly to blame. Sally is equally selfish and very difficult to like. Her desire to split Jerry and Ruth up (despite her claims to the otherwise) comes through strongly throughout the book. Despite my dislike for both characters, I have to admit that they are very well described – the fact that they annoyed me so much is because they are so life-like. Unfortunately, I think there’s a bit of most of us in these two characters.

      It is difficult to feel much sympathy for the overweight Richard who clearly thinks he is God’s gift to women. He has had a series of affairs, yet is horrified at the thought of his wife having one, particularly with someone that they both know. Again, though, he is a very realistic character and totally believable.

      Ruth is the only character with whom I felt I actually had anything in common. She is much gentler than the other characters, although her determination to save her marriage does shine through. She also brings a semblance of sanity to the story, with sensible suggestions about how to move forward.

      The author
      John Updike was born in Pennsylvania and was educated at Harvard and Oxford. He began his writing career with the New Yorker, but became a freelance writer in 1957, after which he began to write novels. Two of them, Rabbit is Rich and Rabbit at Rest were awarded the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction. He is probably best known for The Witches of Eastwick, which was made into a major feature film.

      Conclusion
      To be honest, this is not my type of book. I struggled with the first half, which is all about setting the scene for the two sets of affairs. My dislike for the characters really took over at that point and I found it really difficult to care about what happened to them. Perhaps this is because I’m a smug married, perhaps because a friend of mine is going through a painful split at the moment, but I really couldn’t see the point in either of the affairs apart from the fact that the perpetrators were bored.

      Then something happened in the last part of the book. Ruth became a stronger character and I began to care about what happened to her. Added to this is the beauty of John Updike’s writing, which is beautifully smooth and descriptive. The affairs take place during a Connecticut summer by the beach and the descriptions of the sea were really strong. He also uses flashbacks of conversations between Jerry and Sally to illustrate points that he or the characters want to make and this adds to the texture of the writing, making everything seem that little bit more realistic.

      The final chapter is a little confusing, giving three possible ends to the story and I wasn’t quite sure what to make of it. Having said that, it was very thought-provoking – I thought long and hard about this book after I had finished it, which is something I probably wouldn’t have done if the ending had been more neatly tied up.

      In many ways, I find stories about ruined relationships like this difficult to read – they make me feel uncomfortable. Had it not been so well-written, I think that I would have given it up long before the end. In fact, it is hard to think who would actually enjoy reading a book like this – it is far from being a romance. As a one-off though, I enjoyed the book purely for the writing skills of the author. Recommended to anyone who enjoys good modern fiction – provided you’re in the right frame of mind to read about the pain of broken relationships.

      The book is available from play.com for £5.99, including P&P. Published by Penguin Books, it has 336 pages. ISBN: 0141023635

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    • Product Details

      Updike's eighth novel, subtitled A Romance because, he says, People don't act like that any more, centers on the love affair of a married couple in the Connecticut of 1962. Unfortunately, this is a couple whose members are married to other people. Suburban infidelity is familiar territory by now, but nobody knows it as well as Updike, and the superb book is written with the author's characteristic poetic sensibility and sly wit.