Gap Creek: The Story of a Marriage by Robert Morgan.
A Garden to Keep by Jamie Langston Turner.
When seventeen year old Julie Harmon marries her handsome young gentleman caller Hank Richards, neither of them has any idea of what it takes to make a marriage work or of what it’s going to take for them to make it economically as a family. They find out the hard way. Some of their troubles are their own fault, and some are the result of fire and flood and sickness and death and hard times. All of their own character flaws and the difficulties that come from outside combine to test their marriage and their commitment to each other. Gap Creek takes place in turn-of-the-century Appalachia, so the troubles are magnified and the consolations are few and far between. And Hank and Julie are so young, hard-working and persevering, but so very young and ignorant of the world. Julie has mother-in-law problems, and Hank can’t control his temper. But they both learn. Gap Creek is an excellent “anatomy of a marriage” book.
“I could never write a book that held together. My mind doesn’t stay still in one place long enough to follow through with a line of thought. It charges over the countryside, catapults through the air, and lands in a neighboring county, crosses state lines, leaps oceans, travels abroad.”
The couple in A Garden To Keep are older, around my age. Elizabeth Landis, the wife and the narrator in the book, is about fifty years old and dealing with a severe case of empty nest syndrome. Her son, Travis, has gone away to college for his freshman year, and her husband Ken is absent a lot, too, travelling for work or playing golf or just absent in spirit while bodily present. Elizabeth has a conversion experience at the beginning of the book, probably the least developed and believable part of the story, and then she finds out that her faith and her marriage are to be tested to the limit. The book jumps back and forth between past and present, profound and mundane, in a very satisfying way, just as real people think and weave thoughts about the realities of living with thoughts about the meaning of it all.
“One of us might venture on rare occasions to say something from deep inside, or it might slop out by accident, but there was never any real follow-up discussion of it. It would just hang there in the air for a while like a vapor. Our home was full of these vapors that had wafted up into the corners and coated the walls and ceiling over the years.”
Ken and Elizabeth have communication problems, and again Elizabeth has mother-in-law problems, mostly of her own making. Elizabeth and Ken must learn to talk to each other and to listen before it’s too late to save their marriage, a thing infinitely worth saving in spite of the deep hurts and infidelities that have brought it to the breaking point.
“But remember, marriage isn’t a little three-line Japanese haiku. It’s an epic poem handed down through many generations. If you give yourself to translating poetry, you will end up with a broader knowledge of language, so if I give myself to translating my marriage, maybe I’ll end up with a deeper understanding of love.”
Of the two books, Ms. Turner’s A Garden To Keep is the better story, more thought-provoking and meaningful. However, the two books together are a course in marriage; perhaps they should be assigned reading for couples who are preparing for marriage. I think some people, anyway, might learn more from a work of fiction like one these books than from a multitude of how-to books on marriage.
Some other “anatomy of a marriage” books:
The Love Letters by Madeleine L’Engle. The importance of vows, the meaning of perseverance and forgiveness in marriage.
Kristin Lavransdattir by Sigrid Undset. Marriage between imperfect people, vicissitudes of of a difficult marriage between two stubborn, proud people.
War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy.
(Sidenote in large parentheses: My mom and I watched Walk the Line, the Johnny Cash movie, while I was in West Texas, which was sort of a marriage movie, but more of a beginning of the marriage, romance movie. I looked through my list of 107 Best Movies Ever and couldn’t find a single one that fit the “anatomy of a marriage” theme. Most of them end with the beginning of the marriage —which is to some extent when it just starts to get interesting. Camelot and Fiddler on the Roof deal somewhat with the theme of marriage and what makes or remakes a marriage, but that’s not the central theme of either movie. Can you think of any good movies that are about marriage, rather than about romance and weddings? Days of Wine and Roses? It’s really about alcoholism and its effect on a marriage. I can’t think of any. )