Judith Viorst on marriage -- twice-told old wives tales

January 19, 2003|By Susan Reimer | By Susan Reimer,Sun Columnist

Grown-Up Marriage, by Judith Viorst. Free Press. 304 pages. $24.

Those of us with children have no doubt read Judith Viorst's classic, Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day, an inspired children's book that will be shelved one day with the classics.

But it is safe to say that if we are at a place in life where we associate Viorst with Alexander, we won't find much to inspire us in her latest book for grown-ups, Grown-Up Marriage.

It is best shelved with the how-to books, and it's the perfect engagement, or even wedding, gift. But there is not much for marriage veterans here.

A wife and the mother of three grown sons (Alexander, Nick and Anthony did grow up, after all), Viorst is the author of other children's books, books of poetry and of a number of psychology-lite books on the nature of being a grown-up.

In her latest book, she tackles the topic of marriage, one she has written about before, and she strips the varnish off.

Not many of us are very grown up when we marry, and the institution, once entered, seems to wake the selfish child in us. Viorst zings us often with the truth of that.

"Nobody ever tells you," Viorst quotes one newlywed, "that it's sometimes okay to wonder, 'Who is this person?' Nobody ever tells you that it is sometimes okay to wonder, 'What am I doing here?' "

But there isn't much insight here. That the person we marry does not resemble the person we dated; that parents and in-laws can become the elephant in the room; that kids change everything irrevocably; that the sex gets old: None of this is a revelation. Even the 20-somethings approaching marriage have heard these tales before.

And those who have divorced and married again or those who are growing very old together will not find much they didn't already realize about themselves, either.

The nothing-new is padded with the bite-sized stories of the anonymous married men and women Viorst interviewed. But there is no reason why we should give their observations credence. Who are these people and why do we care what they think. This is lazy book-writing, as if Viorst does not want to invest the time necessary to filter their comments through her own, more authoritative, voice.

In addition, she inexplicably throws in her own bad poetry on the subject of marriage. These are baffling interruptions.

Grown-Up Marriage is not without its redemptive moments, however. The chapter on "Ordinary Everyday Married Life," is a gentle reminder of how careless we can be with the feelings of our wife or husband, and how easy it is to simply be as polite to a spouse as we would be to a stranger. "When we're wondering whatever happened to excitement and romance in marriage, we might start by asking what happened to charm and to manners," Viorst writes

Grown-up Marriage is an easy, painless read. You can finish it on a rainy Saturday afternoon, and you will find your own marriage reflected in its pages, along with some simple suggestions to make your married life more pleasant too.

But you could also shock your spouse with the suggestion of a movie matinee or an afternoon in bed. These things would make your married life more pleasant, too.

Susan Reimer has been the family life columnist for The Sun for nearly a decade, and she's been married for almost two. But she still doesn't always feel like a grown-up, and is often grateful for that fact.

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