I've just finished the memoir, "Hourglass: Time, Memory, Marriage," by Dani Shapiro. It is a tiny book -- the pages laid out with shockingly wide margins -- but does it ever pack a punch. Which is surprising given that Shapiro describes what many of us are living: the vague blandness of waking up next to the same person every morning, years on end. She and her husband "M." love each other. There is no dysfunction, and the drama is the kind you can't escape in life -- accidents and illnesses, ailing parents, career disappointment.
Somehow, though, the book is riveting. This is her third marriage and she covers a lot of territory, with few words and perfect metaphors. The writing is just beyond.
My predictions for you: you will like this book if you are married. You will like it if you are divorced. I'm not sure you will like it if you are young and searching for your soulmate. It might disturb you, like the time at a wedding when I overheard a man in the pew in front of me say to his buddy, "Marriage, man ... the juice ain't worth the squeeze."
I liked this book because I am nosy. I think about writing a memoir myself, but the effect on my family scares me. "Let's see her walk the high wire," I thought.
And she does:
I can no longer say to M. that we’re just beginning… That solid yet light thing — our journey — is no longer new. He identified my mother’s body. We took turns holding our seizing child. We have watched his mother disappear in plain sight. We have raised Jacob together. We know each other in a way that a young couple couldn’t have fathomed. Our shared vocabulary — our language — will die with us. We are the treasure itself: fathoms deep, in the world we have made and made again.
I liked her sharp observations about marriage. Here, she quotes poet Donald Hall's passage on the "third thing":
“We did not spend our days gazing into each other’s eyes. We did that gazing when we made love or when one of us was in trouble, but most of the time our gazes met and entwined as they looked at a third thing. Third things are essential to marriages, objects or practices or habits or arts or institutions or games or human beings that provide a site of joint rapture or contentment. Each member of a couple is separate; the two come together in double attention. Lovemaking is not a third thing but two-in-one. John Keats can be a third thing, or the Boston Symphony Orchestra, or Dutch interiors, or Monopoly. For many couples, children are a third thing.”
I must warn you though. You will find yourself thinking about your own marriage in creative terms. Is it a rollercoaster ride? A broken egg? An unfinished jigsaw puzzle? Last night, I asked my husband of thirty-three years to describe ours. "We're a good team," he said. "We work well together."
I waited, feeling like Tevye in Fiddler on the Roof, keeping my face neutral to what sounded like a peer review one would give a co-worker. He went on. "It's not like the early days when I'd drive crazy fast to get to your apartment. But I still feel giddy at times."
Phew, I thought, giddy is good.