| I read a novel this week called Sorrow and Bliss, by Meg Mason. In it, a woman named Martha looks back on her marriage, from the way her family and romantic history laid the groundwork for it, through the unusual way her relationship with her husband, Patrick, began, to especially the way it was affected by her experience of mental illness.
It’s not a suspense book, and it doesn’t really leave you to question whether anyone will survive. Whether a marriage will survive is in there, I suppose, but mostly it’s a sharply observed story of a life. It’s also very, very funny in many places; here’s a quote I highlighted, in which Martha is describing one of the men in her life who is not Patrick: «He thought I was so uninhibited, fun, a skinny person interested in fashion, an attender of magazine parties, and I thought he had a sense of humor and didn’t take immense amounts of cocaine.»
I finished the book at 1:30 in the morning, roughly, after telling myself repeatedly that I needed to go to bed. (My ongoing arguments with myself about the fact that I need to go to bed are perhaps a book all their own.) For me, that is very late, because I am an old lady and this was a weeknight. But oh, what a joy it was to have that propulsive feeling of «I must,» and to feel it rewarded. (It’s a very good book.)
It reminded me that there are two different kinds of rushing to finish a story. One is this kind, the «I want to stay with this story as much as I can» kind, that’s both pleasant and tense, that has the ease and momentum — but also the adrenaline — of gliding downhill on a sled. The other is the kind I sometimes experience with Netflix shows, which is the «I desperately want to finish these next five hours and discover some payoff that justifies the five hours I have already invested.» That’s more like walking uphill with a sled, thinking, «Maybe when I get up there, there’s going to be something over the hill that will make it seem worthwhile that my feet are wet and my glasses are fogged up.»
I sometimes associate ideas of «I couldn’t put it down» or the employment of the eye-popping blurb word «unputdownable» (my eyes are popping right now!) with mysteries, or with stories where the risk is that somebody in the story is going to be murdered. This, on the other hand, is a family story, really, with this very compelling marriage at its center but other ones that feel important as well: Martha and her mother, her sister, her aunt. (Especially her sister. What a marvelously observed sibling relationship.)
It was a pleasure to defy my own commitment to getting some sleep. One can always nap; one cannot always find exactly the right book.