Heather Havrilesky compares her husband to a pile of laundry

Other evocations of chaos follow this one – of marital illnesses and shedding dogs and screaming children and so on. TV comedy staples o...


Other evocations of chaos follow this one – of marital illnesses and shedding dogs and screaming children and so on. TV comedy staples of the 1950s – but what they prove about marriage as a “show” watched by “everyone” I’m still not sure. I only know my own marriage, like her, and I prefer to hide her craziest moments. marriage is — for me and others — a secret.

“The suburbs are a place where people go to adopt the dominant paradigm, because the dominant paradigm makes them feel safe and comfortable.” A dominant paradigm? In America today? As often happens in the book, Havrilesky’s grand wedding being an example, the paradigm here is in the mind of the author and his specific cohort and feels decidedly anachronistic, like a cultic homage to traditions that would once have dominated but are now of the order of American Music or consciously “basic” clothing styles. Indeed, the suburbs she describes — with their complement of harassed self-sacrificing efforts to educate their children — seem rather new, considering. Yet the text focuses on large lawns, lawns with dog feces warning signs, property value concerns, and other clichés.

I guess that’s the point – suburbs are cliched – but complaining about them that way too. Havrilesky, to her credit, says as much, but she rushes in anyway, spouting truisms about silent desperation. “Being part of a community,” she observes, echoing a vision of the suburbs articulated by legions of predecessors, “turns out to include countless hours of trying to look relaxed while you freak out at inside.”

This attraction for the categorical, this aspiration for the definitive general statement, is unfortunate in a writer whose signal gift is for biting and close descriptive prose. (Much to husband Bill’s chagrin, perhaps.) One of the book’s best episodes involves a chaotic last-minute road trip across the country of too many miles and too few bathrooms. Passages of low scatological comedy are cut with appropriate asides about the crazy intimacy of traveling by car with children. It’s a bravado feat of family portraiture: wild, tender, claustrophobic. And Bill comes to life, escaping the gravity of the author’s self-centered consciousness. The trip is, in fact, a high point for their partnership, after which their story darkens, drifting into a romantic stalemate, potential infidelity, and a heartbreaking medical crisis. We have spent enough time with the couple at this late stage that the universality of their situation need not be affirmed to be appreciated. Betrayal is betrayal. The fear of death is the fear of death.

But what is marriage? A paradox. This seems to be Havrilesky’s final answer, but she gives it upfront and repeats it along the way. It is “mundane” but “exotic”. It is “exhausting” but “exhilarating”. It’s bad but good in a thousand different ways that covers most marriages ever entered into but doesn’t seem specific to any of them except perhaps his. That she thinks it’s particularly exemplary in a time of burgeoning domestic improvisation is somewhat mysterious and cause for argument, even from the phlegmatic and boring Bill, I’d bet, who no doubt sees things in its own way.

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Newsrust - US Top News: Heather Havrilesky compares her husband to a pile of laundry
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