It’s funny because I more or less liked this book just fine (although the blurbs on the book promise it to be something that I am not sure it is, and this promise is hinted at in the book and suggests there really should be about an additional 100 pages here) but something this book does that I find fascinating is undercut two, count em two, very lauded books that received buckets of praise for something this book already accomplished years earlier. I will come back to this.
A married couple is en route to Finland where the husband, a world-renowned American author is receiving a very prestigious Nordic literary award, but not THAT one. We find out in the first sentence that the wife has decided to end things this trip. We are suggested that we will receive a satisfying understanding of why in pages to come. In the meantime, we are treated to the frustrating and pathetic display of a husband we are already poised to detest being flirty, being magnanimous, and being gracious as he is flown and feted in the welcome arms of the Finnish literary community. We see his aging body hidden within a baggy sweater as a physical reminder of how much his body has betrayed the virility he once rested everything upon.
From there we move to beginning of the story as The Wife is an undergrad and meeting the floppy, shaggy young writer in his earliest days as a writing professor, how their love affair became the grist of his first novel, and where things went from there.
I think the successful elements of this book are the past we’re treated to. It’s a familiar story in a lot of ways, but as we’re shown, usually told from the perspective of the young writer realizing almost too late that his early choice of a wife was rash and based not in partnership but in youthful wrongheadedness. It’s a common enough story. It’s also a story that feel incredibly familiar to what we generally known about Philip[ Roth, and especially his early novel Letting Go (as well as his second novel, When She Was Good). So here we have the novel undercutting Asymmetry. I won’t say much else, because I think this book has a satisfying conclusion, but needs more book to support it.