Book Review: Perfection

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Our ModernMom Book Club is a way for our readers to express their thoughts and ideas on things they’ve read, sharing their insights with our community of moms. Join the conversation, and tell us what you thought about this book in the comment section below! 

One of the things most often discussed amongst my mom friends is the state of our marriages – how hard it is after years together, after babies and identity shifts and career changes.

We talk about who’s divorced and how they’re managing and whose husband cheated on who and how and why. We hear a lot from the divorced moms about how much they regret dividing their families given how much it limits their access to their children and how emotionally painful the separation is. We talk about couples whose marriages seem perfect – okay, not perfect, but vibrant, intimate, sexual. We wonder how they do it.

So when I heard about the book, Perfection: a Memoir of Betrayal and Renewal, I was stoked. The book is about how the author’s husband dies unexpectedly one day in their beautiful, small town house leaving her a widow with a 6-year-old girl. But just when she thinks she’s emerging from her grief, she discovers that her marriage had been less than perfect, that her husband had been having a string of affairs, one with a woman who was her close friend and confidant.

The beginning is heart-wrenching. She describes a confident marriage with some bickering and anti-depressants, set in a gorgeous house with a swimming pool and gourmet dinner parties prepared by her husband. Both parents work at home as a writer and graphic designer – not sure how they could pull that off financially but there’s nothing about that in the book. No writers or graphic designers I know can live like that.

Halfway into the book, she discovers the affairs and her rage is unsettling. She reads through all the emails he sent to the women he was sleeping with and quotes from them ad nauseum. Some of them will turn you right off. Like this Valentine’s email he sent to not one, but two women:

“I’ve been kissing you all over your body today, especially the pink tender bits. And I have a valentine waiting for you on the end of my penis. I am dying to deliver it.”

Really, who would respond to that?

Then, she starts calling up all the women to confront them. This was the part of the book I was most interested in. How brave, I thought. How cathartic. But it’s what you’d expect. They are sorry and apologize. Only one turns into an ongoing relationship and the other woman is a spiritual healer who acts as a semi-therapist to Julie. It’s an unlikely friendship and one that likely wouldn’t exist without death to open Julie up to new perspectives.

The book really peters out at the end when she goes into a research-based philosophizing about fidelity and genes. And she turns me off, too, with her overly detailed quest for Mr. Right through online dating. The book needs some editing. She includes every summer holiday she takes in Maine, every single guy she dated in the years following her husband’s death and many, many scenes that don’t really add much to the story at all – a visit to an aging friend and their ensuing, banal conversation about her dead husband, the ringer of which was: “I wish he’d been better to you, my dear.”

The idea for the book is really better than the book itself. But it brings up some deep and interesting questions about marriage and fidelity. How many of your friends have experienced a cheating husband? How do they handle it? Do you think it would be helpful if they called them up to confront them? Do you worry about your husband cheating on you? What would you do if he did?

 

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