Monthly Archives: November 2012

Review: Husband and Wife by Leah Stewart

When Sarah Price learns that her husband Nathan’s new novel, Infidelity, is based on fact, it derails her entire life. This sounds like the setup for a fluffy chick lit romp, but Husband and Wife packs a surprisingly powerful punch, capturing essential truths about motherhood, marriage and identity.

Sarah was once a poet pursuing her MFA, an artist who could spend hours arguing about literature and meaning; now she has an office job, a three-year-old and a baby. Her choices have enabled her husband Nathan to divide his time between writing and caring for the children, and his new book seems destined for success. When Nathan reveals that he cheated on her with a writer during a retreat, she can’t help but wonder if the choices she has made to support her family have changed her forever. Was Nathan looking for someone like she used to be?

Struggling to decide what to do, whether to forgive her husband or strike out on her own, Sarah revisits her past and takes a good look at herself. Will she ever read that seven volume Proust collection? Does she even want to anymore? Can she be a mother and an artist? Is that possible?

Stewart has created an engaging and genuinely interesting character in Sarah, believable even when she’s going off the rails. When faced with a crisis, who wouldn’t turn to the season two finale of Buffy the Vampire Slayer and a bottle of red wine? Supporting characters like Nathan’s stalwart friend Smith, Sarah’s best friend and fellow poet Helen, and the beautiful film maker Rajiv bring dimension and freshness to the story.

Most importantly, the novel feels emotionally true. Sarah’s choices aren’t easy ones and her emotions are as complex and nuanced as the rhythms of marriage itself. Yet the novel often manages to be genuinely funny; one scene in particular in which Sarah attempts a solo roadtrip with her two small children was simultaneously so hilarious and horrifying that I had to read it through my fingers as if I were watching a horror movie. I, too, have felt like a cautionary tale for anyone considering having a baby. “Remember this, and use birth control,” Sarah thinks as two teenage girls witness her efforts to deal with a diaper explosion in a McDonalds restroom. Truer words.

Ultimately, and to the novel’s credit, there is no neatly wrapped bow on this story. Sarah makes choices, like we all do. She doesn’t know what will happen. Because who ever does?

Genre: Literary mid-life crisis fiction

Read it if: You have children, are thinking about having children, or wonder what it would be like to have children; you are in your mid-thirties, have been in your mid-thirties, or plan to be in your mid-thirties at some point in the future. Also, if you are a Buffy the Vampire Slayer fan.

Skip it if: You get enough reality in your real life and don’t want to think about it, even when it’s presented in a thoughtful and entertaining manner. I’m not judging you.

Movie-worthy: Yes! I was picturing Paul Rudd as Nathan the whole time. Maybe whoever made Crazy Stupid Love could do it? I would see that movie, laugh, cry and buy the DVD.