It is all in how you tell it – “Memories of a Marriage” by Louis Begley

October 13, 2013 at 8:12 pm Leave a comment

“Memories of a Marriage” By Louis Begley, Published in 2013 

I loved this look into the marital troubles of an upperclass New York socialite.  It is hard to put my finger on exactly what I liked about this book. I am pretty sure it is what a lot of us love about reading the gossip magazines about celebrities – the train wreck is hard to not watch.  And when the story is written by Louis Begley it will be a well told train wreck.

The narrator is a past his prime writer and widower, Phillip, who, while taking an intermission from the Opera one night, runs into his former acquaintance/one night stand, socialite Lucy de Bourgh.  It is awkward, she is not really as interesting as she once was and neither are as young and shiny as they were in the 1950s when they first met.  Phillip has not really16085480 seen Lucy since her husband, Thomas Snow, left her, fairly quickly remarried and passed away (run over by both a motor boat and the waterskier it was pulling).  Lucy quickly catches on that Phillip may be less than thrilled to see her but invites him to her apartment for dinner later in the week.  Phillip having no excuse that he thinks would be believeable finds himself at Lucy’s apartment where she begins to tell the tale of her woeful marriage to Thomas.  Phillip finds himself drawn into the story, particularly Lucy’s narrative, enhanced by quite a few highballs, of how cruel and subversive Thomas was.

Phillip begins to dig into Lucy and Thomas’ marriage finding that there are always two sides to how a marriage goes terribly wrong.  While he tries to figure out what truth is in the story-telling he also returns to the country home where he and his wife had spent many happy summers.  The parallel between his fear that the story of his happy marriage will die with him is a beautiful background to the painful story of the de Bourgh-Snow alliance.

Begley’s study of relationships is an interesting one.  We all have our versions of our bad relationships.  The person who walks out on us must be evil, unforgivably cruel and callous.  Of course we eventually come to the point of self-examination – wondering what we did wrong, how it could have been better or successful. Often this self-awareness is accompanied by ice cream, in pint sizes.

Quite differently, privileged Lucy is not bothered by any such self-revelation.  She instead loses any of her carefree, energetic self to a bitter, angry determination to remain in her version of the truth.  It is graceless and isolating.  Luckily, Begley doesn’t leave her there though. He gives her a sympathetic edge so that while the reader loves to hate her, the reader also can’t help but hate that you kind of feel bad for her.  That kind of complexity makes reading fascinating.  Truth is overrated anyway.

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Entry filed under: October 2013 reads. Tags: , , , , .

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There is some great literature out there, but there is a lot of bad literature as well. We shouldn't all have to read it. These are my recommendations and thoughts about the books I read.

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