Sunday, May 22, 2011

The Ninth Wife

When I saw this book the first time, I thought, "Only a crazy person would want to be a man's ninth wife." What normal person could have a reasonable explanation for being married eight times? Then, just a few chapters in, I began to think maybe this could make sense. And maybe, just maybe, it wasn't the fact that Bess and I have a few things in common.

Bess and I have the same grandparents. Well, not exactly the same. Mine aren't Jewish and they didn't raise me because my parents died (mom and dad are very much alive and well and gambling their way through my inheritance, thank you very much). But her grandparents have been together a long time. They haven't always had a perfect marriage. They disagree. But with the divorce rate in America at 50%, I can't help but admire people who stick it out - taking those vows of "till death parts us" seriously. I've already told my cat that if I have to haul him around for more than 10 years, we may part ways. This could be why the cat is plotting my death. That's another post. Back to the book ...

Bess meets Rory, a man who in short time proposes to her and, practically at the same time, confesses that he's been married eight times. Who wouldn't be rattled by that news? Bess hears Rory's version, but, like any practical woman in her 30s contemplating marriage, decides to find the women to learn more about the man who either loves the idea of marriage or really does see a future with her.

While that's happening, her grandparents have decided to leave their home for the retirement mecca of Arizona. Bess hauls them, her gay friend, his dog and Bess's grandfather's favorite mannequin across the country. Here's where Bess and I differ: I do not like a road trip that last more than four hours. But I can look past that when I see why Bess is at this crossroads.
Who will be there for me when I die? Bess has had this thought before, a single person's worry, but perhaps she's downplayed it too much. Perhaps it's the single most important reason why she wants not just present companionship, but someone to call her husband, her child, people who, even out of duty, would be there when she needs it most.
Seriously, marrieds. This is a single person's deep, dark secret. I love my dog. I like my cat. But do I want them to be the ones by my bedside when I'm ready to go? No. The dog's too short and lacks fingers to dial 911. The cat will probably just lean over me, sucking in my last breath. Don't get me wrong, I love my freedom, but when I'm old and can't remember where I put my car keys (and no one will tell me that I shouldn't drive) or even remember my name, I want someone who is not on the payroll to honestly care for me. Not too much to ask for, is it?

As Bess meets/talks to ex-wife after ex-wife, it's clear that these women are not like her. In fact, they're all completely different from each other. Does this mean Rory has changed or that he doesn't know what he wants? And is he worth taking that walk down the aisle with? When her grandmother says, "A man is what he is, not what he has been," I stopped. At some point, we all have to let go of our past and live in the present and be hopeful for the future. In the end, Bess manages to do that with herself. Her long-distance journey wasn't just about Rory. It was about resolving the issues she only thought she had to see things more clearly: a ninth wife is just a technicality. Her start with Rory is fresh. It's their first marriage together. And that is what counts. It's a journey worth taking, even if it is just a book.

PS - can someone please tell me what that little symbol means? I kept seeing them in the middle of chapters and I kept thinking it was a sign someone was getting screwed (metaphorically, not literally).
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