Would you marry someone who's been married eight other times before? Not polygamy, not a serial killer--serially divorced. It's an easy question to answer in theory--that guy is a bad bet.
But that's in theory. In fact, you only really need to answer this question when you know and love someone. To get married eight times you need to be charming, but there's a level of charm that will beguile eight women without descending into cheap illusion. There's a guy who's sincere and loving, hopeful and talented, and he wants to marry Bess.
Now, if you read the back of the book, you'll think The Ninth Wife, by Amy Stoll, is a heartwarming road trip book about a 35-year old-woman, her sassy gay friend, and her bickering grandparents searching for details about her boyfriend (fiance?) Rory's past. That's pretty much literally what the cover says.
That description doesn't do the book justice at all. It sounds like silly, bubbly chick lit. It sounds lame or stereotypical, but it's not any of those things. I'm not going to tell you it's ponderous or even deep or literary. But it's thoughtful and sincere, and Bess is a sincere, thoughtful character who, at 35, is not at all desperate, but would really like to be partnered. I think that the threads of sadness are actually what save the book from being fluffy--her gay best friend lost his partner and is putting a good face on it; her aging grandparents are showing wear around the edges of their 65-year marriage.
And then there's Rory--a single, romantic, 45-year-old man who keeps secrets would be very easy to make unlikeable or "perfect but misunderstood," but Rory is neither. The stories of his marriages are fascinating, and I've found myself, in spare moments nowhere near the book, running tallies of his exes and how they wound up together and how, though eight is a very large number, each one makes so much sense as its own story.
If the theme of this book is what a partnership means and how it works, the question of the book is what relevance the past has on the present. I have to admit that I found some of the conclusions the author seemed to reach a little weak--being "a different person" than you were back then is a really complicated concept, and I think she just lets it fly past too easily, whether the character believes it's true or not.
I don't read a lot of chick lit, preferring to get my comedy and romance elsewhere. I was really pleased to find this book. It wasn't a classic and I don't expect it to go down in history, but I finished it yesterday and I strongly suspect I'm still going to be tallying off Rory's ex wives tonight, trying to decide which choices were his best and his worst, which were understandable and which totally misguided. If just for that, it was worth it.