Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Ex-Wife by Ursula Parrott

Ursula Parrott's Ex-Wife, a compelling novel about divorce, unflinchingly captures the sadness, numbness, and confusion of a heroine still in love with her ex-husband. This hip, deadpan, pitch-perfect novel, published in 1928, is surprisingly contemporary.

Parrott begins the novel:

"My husband left me four years ago.  Why--I don't precisely understand, and never did.  Nor, I suspect, does he.  Nowadays, when the catastrophe that it seemed to be and its causes are matters equally inconsequential, I am increasingly disposed to the belief that he brought himself to the point of deserting me because I made such outrageous scenes at first mention of the possibility."

Set in New York during the Jazz Age, Ex-Wife describes the aftermath of the destruction of the narrator Patty's marriage by a combination of drinking, infidelities, and sexual misunderstandings.   Patty, an advertising copywriter, is madly in love with her husband, Peter, a newspaperman, but they go drinking and dancing every night and occasionally kiss other people.  When he sleeps with someone else, Patty is upset but dares not complain, but when she sleeps with someone else, he never forgives her.  And when Patty's dull virginal friend Hilda visits, Peter falls in love with her because of her apparent virtue and constant bad-mouthing of Patty.  He leaves Patty after six months.

Patty moves in with Lucia, a divorced friend who tries to help her survive the wreck.  Patty has her heart set on getting Peter back, and spends all her extra freelancing money on new clothes so that she'll attract him.  Lucia tries to explain that it is unlikely that Peter will return.  He has ditched the virginal Hilda for a sexy woman named Judith.

"Men...men are always coming back from little excursion trips--but once they start on world cruises...

"...About the excursions and cruises--I mean that a man, really in love with one woman, often can go tripping off blithely but briefly with another, simply because she has a stirring voice or wide innocent eyes.  He comes back then, to the woman, sometimes improved, even.  But once he embarks on a tour, child, he's going to forget perhaps, what city he started from, and certainly what that city had that was unique, among all the scenery he's seen since."

It's true.  Once the touring starts, you end up like Jane, H. G. Wells's wife, who had to put up with an "open marriage."

Ex-wives have ugly stories. I was an ex-wife for a very numb year and a half.

Ex-wives' lives often revolve around finding new boyfriends and husbands.  Long hours of work and Saturday mornings at the art museum cannot while away all the hours of the day.  Nor can blind dates with attractive ex-managers of rock bands who drink a little too much nor never-married CPAs who are referred by friends of friends of friends make up for an ex-life.

My favorite ex-life story? 

When I was going through a divorce, for some reason I didn't tell anyone at work.  One of my acquaintances found out and set me up on a blind date with a doctor.  Since I've never cared for money, it didn't occur to me that he was a "catch."  One minute he was gushing about taking me out on his sailboat and then suddenly he observed outside the movie theater: "There are sure a lot of Jews around here, aren't there?"

I was aghast.  And after the movie started, I couldn't stand it and left. 

As a lefty, I really can't stand anti-semitism, racism, sexism...any of those things.  

The very fact that I was sitting in a theater with a complete stranger who stood for everything I hated showed that  I was not myself.  It is tough being an ex-wife because you're used to being with someone  and suddenly you're in a world of strangers.  

I am no longer an ex-wife.  

I haven't finished Ex-Wife, but have a feeling it will not end happily.


Buried In Print said...

This goes against my grain, but I need to know how this book ends! I'm fascinated by the tone and curious where it goes (and hoping it's not the tragedy you're anticipating).

Frisbee said...

I finished it and wrote a LITTLE more about it in the next post. It's not tragedy, but...you know.