Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Distractions: A Beautiful, Terrible Thing

Netgalley, the new release shelf at the library, the $0.99 Kindle sale page--these things suck me in.  The list is long enough, but when I see a description like this one, I can't walk by, and Netgalley is kind enough to provide a review copy so I can read the memoir of a woman who realizes her husband is a psychopath.

A Beautiful, Terrible Thing: A Memoir of Marriage and Betrayal, by Jen Waite, sells itself with a straightforward appeal to those of us who read advice columns for the problems: It's the story of the author's realization "that her loving husband—the father of her infant daughter, her best friend, the love of her life—fits the textbook definition of psychopath."

Now, I'm not here for a marriage falls apart memoir. There are plenty of those, in real life and in literature, that dissect the vagaries of the human heart, where people try but can't, or won't try at all.  No, I'm here for the elaborate web of lies, so outrageous it's shocking he even dreamed it up, never mind tried to convince you of it.  I'm here for the many who is living a double or triple life, who kept you believing in him through months or years of manipulation.

That's not this book, though.  I don't want to complain that Marco's indiscretions are too quotidian--he basically has a lot of sex with a lot of women and dumps his wife right as she gives birth.  It's ugly, and he's clearly got a personality disorder.  And the story of Jen's realization of the extent of his lies is interesting, a dissection of the play by play of its exposure. 

But really, he wasn't playing at a very advanced level. He didn't send emails from fake accounts or make up fake business partners.  Heck, he didn't even get a separate Uber account for visiting his lady friends.  This is not about recognizing how the complicated webs of our society depend on a certain baseline understanding of reality, and how people who are willing to play with that can mess with the rest of us who take it for granted.  No, it's about a guy who was really good at faking being a decent person, but who actually was not a decent person after all.

Given that limitation, though, it's a good book and a well-told story.  Some of the recreated conversations are clearly more "what I wish I'd said" than what could actually have taken place, but that doesn't mean she doesn't admit to the places where she breaks down and acts like less than her best self.  I respect that; we don't always present well in the crisis.  And her journey toward understanding, especially her parents' unwavering support, is really reassuring. 

There is definitely an angle to this where her safety net is so vast (her parents have a huge house and are retired and have plenty of money to take care of her and the baby till she figures out what's what) that the stakes feel kind of low--all that's at stake here is her heart.  And she gives that enormous privilege only a glancing mention near the end of the book. 

But your heart, your faith in the world--those are real things to be at stake, and real losses, and I don't know how I'd deal with it if something like that happened to me.  The presentation here of this exact situation is one that I think a lot of people will be fascinated by, and a few people will recognize to the point of discomfort.  Definitely a fascinating summer read, for the interested observer.

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