14 February 2019

Valentines Day Special: 10 of the Most Miserable Books about Marriage You'll Ever Read

There was some 'discussion' between us about whether or not to do this post, since one of us is getting married in June... but enjoying books with terrible marriage plots is one of the things we have most in common. We love to read about them, the same way people gleefully watch horror movies through the slits in their eyes. So, if you are not into Valentine's Day and are looking for something to take your mind off how cute everyone looks on Instagram, here's a list of books that will make you realize that nobody is actually that happy.

Nick and Amy Dunne are maybe the scariest couple in all the fiction I've read? Flynn wrote such an interesting novel because your reaction 180's so quickly (or at least mine did). Your initial reaction is that this psycho bitch is the last person you'd root for, but then you think about how she perceives her marriage and you start to wonder ... was she right? I still feel like this was my favourite review to write because I was able to come to terms with feeling justified if I murdered my ex-boyfriend (lol).

I remember so clearly Amy saying in David Fincher's adaptation:

Nick Dunne took my pride and my dignity and my hope and my money. He took and took from me until I no longer existed. That's murder. Let the punishment fit the crime."

There's A LOT of fun stuff going on in this book but there's also some disturbing details about marriage. Flynn wrote this incredible book about how we often hurt the one's we love and how we can truly never know what our significant other is thinking - regardless of how long you're married. I'll leave with one last quotation that always gives me the shivers (this time from the husband):

The question I've asked more often during our marriage, if not out loud, if not to the person who could answer. I supposed these questions storm cloud over every marriage: What are you thinking? How are you feeling? Who are you? What have we done to each other? What will we do?"

This book is nonfiction and there's no actual, specific marriage in it that's bad, but it paints a horrifying picture of marriage and monogamous relationships in general. Elizabeth Gilbert herself woke up one day a few years into a normal marriage and realized she felt trapped. To me, this is almost worse than there being an actual reason to end the marriage (addiction, abuse, affairs, etc.) because it doesn't seem to elicit the same empathy from outsiders.

Committed is Gilbert's exploration of relationships as she considers getting re-married after her initial divorce. No book has ever stuck with me so much or affected my life so much (I force my fiance to talk about our relationship almost constantly, mostly because of this book, and luckily, he is a good sport). She discusses the way infatuation works like a narcotic and blinds us early in relationships, the dangers of 'friends' outside of your romantic relationships, and how we often jump without even thinking into arguably the most important choice of our lives.

This is required reading but does come with some serious depression warnings regarding the state of your relationship. I wrote a very passionate and lengthy review of this book that you can read here.

Stefan bought me this book for Christmas many years ago and this year I finally read it. It actually took me so long to get through because I found it incredibly depressing and had a hard time picking it up. A lot of Continental Drift is about living in poverty but believing in the American Dream, but there's also a lot about the main character's (Bob Dubois) marriage.

Bob Dubois cheats on his wife constantly, but this isn't what makes me cynical about marriage. What bothers me the most is how willing Bob's wife is to change her life so that her husband can feel 'fulfilled,' and how even after moving a thousand miles away he continues to cheat on her and blame her for his feeling 'trapped.' His wife is so supportive (until a point of course) in this book and it was so frustrating to read.

I guess my take away from this marriage is that you can't really ever expect anyone to change? How depressing. You can read my full review here.

To be brutally honest, I don't really remember reading this (although I know I did), but I do remember the movie ending and having the kind of pit in my stomach that you can only get from having just watched the most depressing two hours of film play out on screen. The story is of a married couple, April and Frank, who are miserable in their marriage because of how it's holding them back from their dreams and true potential. April wants to be an actress and move to Paris, Frank wants to climb the corporate ladder at work, they tell each other lies to be supportive of one another, which eventually leads to blowout fights, resentment, and deep depression. Eventually a pregnancy adds an additional complication.

What's most miserable about this is how realistic it is. No shocking event has happened, each just wants things that the other doesn't, yet they want to stay together and make the other happy. How do you negotiate that? How can anyone know for sure that won't eventually happen to their marriage...? Ugh, this is why Meghan warned me we shouldn't do this post. If you aren't a reader, the movie adaptation starring Kate Winslet and Leonardo DiCaprio is very good as well and those two have the kind of heartbreaking chemistry that you can only get from having starred together in Titanic.

I decided to pick The Corrections for this list because I think Jonathan Franzen does an amazing job of showing you how a middle-class family with no real tragedy in their backgrounds can still be completely miserable. The marriage I am specifically interested in talking about is Enid and Alfred's.

Their marriage is difficult in that they married closer to the 1940's and so a lot of their problems seem to stem from their 'old-fashioned-ness.' They never discuss their sexuality and Alfred definitely expects Enid to carry out all the traditional homemaker-tasks. I loved seeing how their marriage fared in our current climate and some of the ways they tried to change and adapt. I wrote a review for friend-of-the-blog Laura Frey's blog called Reading in Bed here.

It's also pretty depressing to know that you can spend your entire life with someone and they can die slowly and painfully from dementia and not remember you at all.

I'll have a full review of this novel on the blog next week, but consider this a nice little teaser. This is Judy Blume's R-rated adult novel about a housewife who rebels against marital expectations in the 70's. Sandy and Norman have one of the worst marriages I've ever read about, but it's not expressed in a serious way, like Revolutionary Road, Blume tries to make it funny and approachable, and she really focuses on the disappointment in their sexual lives.

Sandy is so bored of sex with Norman, and yet she's scared to say anything, and when she does make suggestions to try new things, he is incredibly hostile. For example, a prominent 'wish' for Sandy is to be on top, but Norman never lets her, he says it's the 'man's job'. This is funny to read now, but imagine how sad a woman's sex life could have been during this time if this was the male attitude...

While I recognize marriages and heterosexual relationships have evolved since this then, there is something still so miserable about a woman who can't ask her HUSBAND for what she truly wants. Maybe it's not about sex, but there are for sure still women like that today. And I'm positive they must all hate their husbands for it.

This is by far the worst marriage and it's the only one on my list completely non-fiction. Carine McCandless' memoir is a first-hand account of her childhood and a look inside why her infamous brother Chris McCandless walked into the Alaskan wild alone. Her memoir starts in her early childhood and describes the emotional and physical abuse she witnessed and, in some cases, experienced first hand, from her mother and father (Billie and Walt McCandless).

This book disturbed me so much because it isn't just a criticism of a bad marriage, it also goes on to show the aftereffects such a marriage can have on offspring. A bad marriage alone seems like a nightmare, but once you have children mixed into it it becomes an even bigger horror show. You can read my full review here.

You can read my full review of this book here, but basically, Gene and Grace have this terrible marriage where they clearly do not love each other, and after a massive wildfire wipes out half their town, it seems Gene has died in the fire, and Grace rebuilds her life without him. Then, he shows back up, and the life Grace had begun to get excited about is swept out from under her feet. 

There's a passage from this book that really stuck with me:

As she backs away from him, the entire construct of her life collapses. She will live in this house with this injured man on the couch until one of them dies. She will never again go to a job. She will never make love again. She will not have friends. Slowly, she sinks into the armchair under the tremendous weight of her future.

At one point Grace goes so far as to ask Gene why he bothered marrying her, dating her, and he admits that she just reminded him of someone he loved before her. Can you imagine? Again, the idea of a woman trapped in a marriage she hates with no way out gives me the chills, and although this book is set in the past, I know this is still a reality for many women today. 

I was hesitant to put this book on the list because I've actually never read it before. I listened to an interview with Nora Ephron before she died where she talked about her marriages and divorces (specifically the one that inspired Heartburn).

This book is based off Ephron's second marriage to famous journalist Carl Bernstein and her discovery of his affair with another prominent writer/family friend. I have re-listened to this interview a few times because it is so, so insightful, and Ephron is so charismatic. She said when she found out she had a meeting with the writer-friend's husband where they fell into each other's arms crying and he shouted out "WHAT IS THIS COUNTRY COMING TO?!" I love this story so much because Ephron uses it to point out the humour in the events we believe (in the moment) to be ruining our lives.

She also pointed out in the interview that you should never marry anyone you can't one day see yourself getting divorced from. Interesting.

Anyways, Heartburn is a fictionalized version of this story but apparently her ex-husband was furious because it was so thinly veiled. If you don't feel like reading the book you can watch the movie starring Meryl Streep and Jake Nicholson.

Ah, an old book club read. If you remember us carrying on endlessly about this, you'll remember how awful Ed and Eileen's marriage was. It's almost a portrait of what happens when you pick a partner you feel you're 'supposed' to have rather than someone you actually love, and then try to turn them into a version of themselves you like better. 

Eileen is a materialistic bitch who just wants a fancy mansion and a nice looking life, whereas Ed is so grounded in teaching and science, and just wants to commit his life to his work, regardless of how much money he makes. Because of this the two of them are always at each other, never good enough for the other or living up to the other's expectations. They go as far as to have a son, who Eileen constantly uses against Ed, criticizing his fathering style at every turn. 

Their terrible relationship leads them into massive amounts of debt and Ed ends up suffering from early Alzheimer's. Each additional the plot was more depressing than the last, and if I was doing a deep analysis of this book I'd go as far as to suggest Ed faked his Alzheimer's because Eileen was so insufferable. 

The book club was bleak, mostly because of how miserable this marriage was. We were all miserable just reading about it.

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