J: For our next book, after two computer-and-tech-heavy choices, Ben and I read Saul and Patsyby Charles Baxter. It’s based on a series of related short stories that were recommended to me after I wrote a vignette about a man who completely duffs up trying to get his wife to the hospital to deliver their first child. It’s about (surprise!) Saul and Patsy, a young couple who move to the Midwest after marrying, and it follows them for several years.
B: Jaci’s story was probably more entertaining than the whole of the book, though. I kind of groaned when I heard we’d be reading a story about marriage, because the novels on the subject are usually about the decline of marriage or the collapse of the honeymoon period, or a partner wrestling with infidelity, or boring. At any rate, they usually make you paint your own marriage in the context of the novel, and that’s usually not too great.
J: It’s true (the part about comparisons, not that part about my story being better)—Ben is constitutionally unable to read a book or watch a movie concerning marriage without comparing them and us. The best part about this book, though, was that Ben and I got to read parts of it together! Ben flew to Palma de Mallorca for three days to visit me when I was there. Of course, he was far ahead of me in the reading as I’d been focusing on another project in the knowledge that wed be together soon, and was extra busy with the work I actually get paid to do on top of that.
B: Turns out our marriage is way better than Saul & Patsy’s– even if their marriage was some fictional ideal! (Stuff happens to them, not because of them, and they stick together). After spending 4 months apart, Jaci and I were perfectly in sync and knew each other’s thoughts and feelings- much like Saul & Patsy; but we were on a Mediterranean vacation instead of in a goth-infested Midwestern town. Ha- take that, Saul!
J: I do like Baxter’s writing. Ive been assigned to read The Next Building I Plan to Bomb in one of my classes, and its a great story, also set in Five Oaks. I thought that the novel, while there was a central storyline, had the randomness of life, which perhaps resulted from its origin as a set of stories. In that way in reminded me a bit of The Unbearable Lightness of Scones, another book I read recently, only that one was published in serial (and is a little lighter in subject matter).
B: I was asked to write about my favorite scene in the book. I spent most of my time in the book wondering why the characters were doing what they were doing (weird, stalker-like things). I guess the scene that interested me most as a husband was where Saul talks down a bunch of angry teenagers who are trying to vandalize his house. He puts on a mock funeral for a kid that, until he was dead, no one cared about- thus redirecting (not diminishing) the hormonal anger away from his wife and child.
J: For me, the final scenes were the best ones. Toward the end Saul buys some lemonade, and I adored that scene (I won’t go into any more details than that). And Patsy’s pride in Saul—how the characters “end up”—I found strangely satisfying.
B: I also enjoyed the final parts of the book better, it seemed kind of disconnected at the beginning (probably because it was the combination of a bunch of short stories), but the plot managed to come together in the end. And it was a satisfying ending- no divorce or adultery to be had.
J: Currently were reading Stranger in a Strange Land, a book by my favorite former-naval-officer-cum-novelist, Robert Heinlein. I first read this particular novel back in Washington state while Ben was living in North Dakota. I’m interested to see what he makes of it.