Altar Tales And High Jilts

Wedding Woes and Jilted Blows

October 4, 2012 4:34 pm

Marital Boredom

All of Lurie’s novels are programmatic: like most comic writers she relies upon formal contrivances to heighten irony, to create startling juxtapositions, to make a larger point about the individual’s accommodations to the demands of society. In The War Between the Tates Erica and Brian’s marital battles were punctuated by a sonorous voice-over narration which compared them to the social and political upheavals accompanying the Vietnam War. In Only Children Lurie failed in her occasional attempts to blend the naivete of two little girls with her own stinging cynicism. But Erica and Brian were energetically and realistically drawn; and Lolly and Mary Ann, if somewhat limited as narrators, brought a fresh glimpse into the old themes of marital advice boredom and infidelity. In both novels Lurie credibly evoked a chapter in American social history. Alas, in Foreign Affairs the characters are so unappealing and the contrivances of plot so labored that the ironies are leaden rather than leavening. And, its title notwithstanding, the only affairs she addresses here are carnal.

Bored With Marriage Video - http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=K0wnU6gk3qE

As for the lessons Lurie lays out, they are of the most rudimentary sociopsychological sort. Yet these two reputable professors are maddeningly slow learners. Fred, filled with self-love, can’t find happiness until his obsession with what Lady Rosemary represents is replaced by a clear-eyed recognition of what she is. (Even his lovers assume the shape of academic equations in his mind: “She is small, soft, and fair; Roo large, sturdy, and dark… . In manner and speech Rosemary is graceful, melodious; Roo by comparison clumsy and loud—in fact, coarse. Just as, compared with England, America is large, naive, noisy, crude, etc.”) It is during a game of charades—what else?—that he has his first vague glimmerings that Rosemary is not quite the fragile English flower she seems. Suddenly she and her cultivated friends appear raucous, even depraved: Rosemary “is not only vulgarly made up and loaded with costume jewelry, but is wearing the lace butterfly nightgown in which, just a few hours ago… . He wants to protest, but makes himself laugh along with the rest; after all, it’s only a game.” Vinnie, for her part, filled with self-hate, must not only cease to see Chuck Mumpson as a source of revulsion and pity, but herself as well. “Vinnie doesn’t want her London friends to confuse her with Chuck, to think of her as after all rather simple, vulgar, and amusing—a typical American.”

Conjugal Disputes

In the end, of course, it becomes clear to Fred that Lady Rosemary, far from representing “the best of England,” actually embodies the destructive self-indulgence of a decadent class society; and to Vinnie that Chuck, who reminds her of all that’s shameful and ugly in America, in fact personifies American openness and stolid decency.