Uncommon Arrangements – Katie Roiphe

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Goodreads Synopsis: Katie Roiphe’s stimulating work has made her one of the most talked about cultural critics of her generation. Now this bracing young writer delves deeply into one of the most layered of subjects: marriage. Drawn in part from the private memoirs, personal correspondence, and long-forgotten journals of the British literary community from 1910 to the Second World War, here are seven “marriages à la mode”—each rising to the challenge of intimate relations in more or less creative ways. Jane Wells, the wife of H.G., remained his rock, despite his decade-long relationship with Rebecca West (among others). Katherine Mansfield had an irresponsible, childlike romance with her husband, John Middleton Murry, that collapsed under the strain of real-life problems. Vera Brittain and George Gordon Catlin spent years in a “semidetached” marriage (he in America, she in England). Vanessa Bell maintained a complicated harmony with the painter Duncan Grant, whom she loved, and her husband, Clive. And her sister Virginia Woolf, herself no stranger to marital particularities, sustained a brilliant running commentary on the most intimate details of those around her.

Every chapter revolves around a crisis that occurred in each of these marriages—as serious as life-threatening illness or as seemingly innocuous as a slightly tipsy dinner table conversation—and how it was resolved…or not resolved. In these portraits, Roiphe brilliantly evokes what are, as she says, “the fluctuations and shifts in attraction, the mysteries of lasting affection, the endurance and changes in love, and the role of friendship in marriage.” The deeper mysteries at stake in all relationships.

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This was a book I found recently and decided to read for a couple of reasons. One I really love reading biographies, and the second reason is I’m really interested in any books that bring up questions against the norms of society. This seemed like it would be just the book for me.

I really had a hard time deciding on a rating for this book. Because it has some really interesting subject matter, and the author obviously did a ton of research and work to put this book together. There’s a lot that the author had to condense and summarize, as she wrote about a different couple in each chapter. I liked the way the book was put together, the chapters were just long enough to give a fairly detailed outline of the relationships, but just short enough not to get overwhelming. And so I found myself really torn between trying to see things from the author’s point of view, and really just feeling frustrated with the way she talked about the people.

Roiphe is obviously very biased against relationships that try things outside of the normal find one person, marry them and be with them till you die. And I wouldn’t have minded so much save that she didn’t really care to try and see things from the people’s point of view. She criticized and condemned them and it really made me angry. On top of that the author made a couple of really lesbophobic and biphobic assumptions and comments. It really made me angry.

Originally I had given this book a 3 star rating, but as I went back to look at my comments and to write this review I decided to lower the rating to two stars. There’s really no reason to be generous and give it anymore. I don’t appreciate bias in biographies, I’m not here to read about the author’s opinion on the morality of relationships. I’m here to read about the lives of authors and their partners.

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