As both a writer and a reader Leah Stewart (The Myth of You and Me, Body of a Girl) requires that a book offers engagement on an emotional level and, in her third novel — Husband and Wife, released in May — she provides cause for such a response.
The fact that this story is based on detailed, personal emotions undoubtedly led to the interview question, “…is your work autobiographical?” in LEAH LETS LOOSE on SHEKNOWS Entertainment. There the author answered:
“I’m a believer in writing from emotional truth but not necessarily literal truth. In other words I have to put my characters in situations where I’ll understand what they feel, and to do that I mix elements of my own life with details from other people’s lives and add a healthy dose of stuff I made up.”
Leah began writing Husband and Wife when her daughter was three and her son was seven months old. Motherhood, and how it affects your self, and your marriage were the subjects on her mind yet the daily mothering routine isn’t very interesting without a conflict. That’s when she chose infidelity to throw her husband and wife characters into crisis mode. According to the author’s belief, “Nothing causes you to examine a bond like a betrayal of it.”
And, though infidelity/adultery may be one of the oldest stories, this novel takes a more contemporary, insightful look at it by asking how people change when they become adults, mates and eventually parents. Here is the synopsis:
Sarah Price is thirty-five years old. She doesn’t feel as though she’s getting older, but there are some noticeable changes: a hangover after two beers, the stray gray hair, and, most of all, she’s called “Mom” by two small children. Always responsible, Sarah traded her MFA for a steady job, which allows her husband, Nathan, to write fiction. But Sarah is happy and she believes Nathan is too, until a truth is revealed: Nathan’s upcoming novel, Infidelity, is based in fact.
Suddenly Sarah’s world is turned upside down. Adding to her confusion, Nathan abdicates responsibility for the fate of their relationship and of his novel’s publication—a financial lifesaver they have been depending upon—leaving both in Sarah’s hands. Reeling from his betrayal, she is plagued by dark questions. How well does she really know Nathan? And, more important, how well does she know herself?
For answers, Sarah looks back to her artistic twenty-something self to try to understand what happened to her dreams. When did it all seem to change? Pushed from her complacent plateau, Sarah begins to act—for the first time not so responsibly—on all the things she has let go of for so long: her blank computer screen; her best friend, Helen; the volumes of Proust on her bookshelf. And then there is that e-mail in her inbox: a note from Rajiv, a beautiful man from her past who once tempted her to stray. The struggle to find which version of herself is the essential one—artist, wife, or mother—takes Sarah hundreds of miles away from her marriage on a surprising journey.
Wise, funny, and sharply drawn, Leah Stewart’s Husband and Wife probes our deepest relationships, the promises we make and break, and the consequences they hold for our lives, revealing that it’s never too late to step back and start over.
Thanks to HarperCollins Chapters 1 – 4 are available for reading from the Browse Inside site. By taking advantage of this reading opportunity, you’ll discover that the author wastes no time in presenting the crisis. On page 6 Nathan implies his transgression and, on the following page, he tells Sarah: “I cheated on you.” There’s no hedging, he was unfaithful and so begins the story of “what now?” rather than “what if?” for husband and wife.
However, despite the “couple” title, the book is Sarah’s story of her journey to stay in the marriage or go off on her own. Not only does Leah Stewart explore the devastating effects of marital betrayal, she also focuses on the modern woman, complete with career, who has not been raised to believe in preserving a marriage at all costs. On the other hand, there is more than being financially capable of letting go. There are the perceptions of how others will regard/judge her ultimate choice.
As a result of the crisis in her marriage comes a crisis of self. Interestingly enough this isn’t based on Sarah’s physical attractiveness (though there’s mention of a need to shed more pounds of baby fat), but the real concern focuses on her artistic, intellectual attractiveness. Her identity as a poet and Nathan, the aspiring novelist, brought them together in grad school where — in truth — dreams feel as though they’re out there waiting. Except, of course, not everyone grabs the brass ring of success. After being together for ten years, and married for the last four, Nathan’s success and Sarah’s role of working mother has shifted the dynamics of their relationship. Is Sarah aware of how much they’ve changed? Is she consciously jealous of Nathan? Does she still care enough about artistic dreams to seek time to work for them?
The irony of this literary husband and wife is their failure at communicating with each other. Or does being writers limit them to expressing themselves only on paper? Even Nathan’s admission of guilt has Sarah refusing to talk to her husband, instead telling him to leave without any thought of how to live/cope without him. Impulsive, eyebrow-raising action given there are young children to care for. And while the overwhelming pain of lost trust — perhaps even lost love — is understood, irresponsibility is not.
Leah Stewart writes an all-to-honest portrait of a couple who, despite having a family, easily grow apart. Her characters are flawed, selfish and not always likable, yet are they merely victims of a modern society that encourages whims of personal gratification? Can their marriage and family be saved?
In Husband and Wife, the future lies in the wife’s hands. After all she has come-of-age as an adult and must now face the responsibility of her ever-changing roles, including “To have and to hold, for better – for worse….”
Book Giveaway: The Divining Wand is giving away a copy of Leah Stewart’s Husband and Wife in a random drawing of comments left only on this specific post. Comments left on other posts during the week will not be eligible. The deadline is Wednesday, September 15, 2010 at 7:00 p.m. EDT with the winner to be announced here in Thursday’s post. If you enter, please return Thursday to see if you’re a winner.