September 2011

To grieve with rhyme and reason

By Lily Tuck
Review by
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Lily Tuck, who won the 2004 National Book Award for The News from Paraguay, has long been heralded for her elegant, spare prose and predilection for complex characters and philosophical inquiry. Her latest novel, I Married You for Happiness, which potently documents one woman’s response to her husband’s death, displays everything critics and readers have come to expect from this talented writer.

Philip, a successful mathematician at a university in Cambridge, arrives home from work and tells his wife, Nina, that he needs to lie down before dinner. A short while later, Nina discovers his lifeless body in the bed they shared. She spends the remainder of the night by his side, drinking the red wine meant for the meal and recalling their life together. Her fractured web of memories results in something of a meandering obituary for Philip, as well as their marriage, and carries us from their meeting at a cafe in 1960s Paris to his unexpected end. At first, it appears to be a classic case of love that relies on the joyful equilibrium of opposites—Nina, an artist, is the dreamer; Philip the logician. But as the novel progresses, her grief and introspection expose a decidedly more complicated relationship, one that is dominated by Philip’s relentless devotion to probability, yet, paradoxically, ridden with uncertainty. 

The writing is lyrical and striking, vividly capturing the nature of memory and the way in which love, though never simple, is contained and proven in the small, indelible moments of our lives. Many writers attempt to navigate the territory of grief: those manic days after loss, the weeks where life repairs itself and the months when normal begins to feel, once again, possible. But this slim, magnificent novel is rarified by its heartbreaking immediacy, and the moving, aching stream of consciousness chronicles not only the psychology of shock and mourning, but also the minute-by-minute way in which Nina begins to put life as she knows it in the past tense.

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I Married You for Happiness

I Married You for Happiness

By Lily Tuck
Atlantic Monthly
ISBN 9780802119919

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