“The churn of a secret life.”

Our unnamed diarist in her happy-enough marriage with the Dependable Husband. Sure, he’s flawed, but these aren’t shattering imperfections. They’ve dealt with it—she has, she loves him, she knows she does. Why wouldn’t she otherwise? She’s not really unhappy. But. You know. Being not unhappy yet happy-enough doesn’t guarantee your being happy. Being not unhappy yet happy-enough doesn’t guarantee you won’t think about what life would be if, say, it were just a little bit more complicated, a little messier—if life made you breathless every once in a while. But she can’t say that, nope. People would think her unhappy. And this makes her—anyone, I suppose—just a little bit more reckless.

No one, though, has any idea of the churn of a secret life. Your desire to catch catastrophe into your world is like a tugging at your skirt. But only sometimes, then it’s gone. With the offer of a bath, or a cup of tea, or the dishes done.

But a little nudge here and there, and dissatisfaction rears its ugly head. And gives way to an awakening, too: The Bride Stripped Bare by Nikki Gemmell is a defiant confession of a slow, sexual awakening that begins with this unnamed young wife. She has fantasies of other lives, other beds to wake up in, other faces to glance against. And she lets herself acknowledge that she wants something else, that she’s been putting up with things she doesn’t even like for the longest time.

I hereby decree every woman to write her own sensual/sexual history, because, more than anything else, Gemmell’s book—although whole in the limitations it sets for itself, although a good book—most importantly stirs and incites the reader, reminds one of pains and frustrations thought best left unacknowledged.

It’s almost a knee-jerk reaction: Read of this young wife saying, “. . .you wonder why some people have a compulsion to allow chaos in their lives,” and you start to nod, thinking, yeah, I’ve had those times, I should write them down, paying careful attention to the myriad chaos-in-plural.

You know, those times—say, when you enter the home you’ve lived in for quite a long time now (with this other, necessary person) and you realize that, “An emptiness rules at its core, a rottenness, a silence when one of you retires to bed without saying good night, when you eat together without conversation, when the phone’s passed wordlessly to the other. An emptiness when every night you lie in the double bed, restlessly awake, astounded at how closely hate can nudge against love, can wind around it simultaneously like a cat. An emptiness when you realize that the loneliest you’ve ever been is within a marriage, as a wife.” Nothing-spectacular language aside, variations thereof are allowable, even expected.

It’s the affected reader allowing those variations that likewise compels her to realize she must have a chronicle of her own, that everyone must. This book speaks certain truths, but it isn’t universal enough—it can’t be the book for everyone.

And even then, even with one reader nodding every couple of pages or so, that reader will, sooner or later, realize that this book isn’t hers as much as she wants it to be. That this isn’t truly the book she would have written.

Well, you know, of course not.

* * *

Damn those variations! Or, in more heated moments, this reader screaming at the page: You’re wrong; that’s not how it is. I don’t agree with everything Gemmell wrote. This is personal history as well as a less emotionally invested witness.

Note that it’s Gemmell I’m now referring to as author, and not our unnamed diarist. Because, see, Gemmell’s politics is palpable here. She’s all yip-de-doo regarding the sanctity of monogamy. Of course, in an interview included in the book, Gemmell states, “There is a moral code to The Bride Stripped Bare. My protagonist respects the sanctity of monogamy.”

But I have the benefit of having extra features in my book, okay? See, as I neared the end, I started to scowl, seeing how things began to veer off. I was horrified with the authorial hand’s determination to let our unnamed diarist play the good wife, after such an enriching digression, as though it were just that—a phase in an otherwise okay-enough life.

Or, as Gemmell insists, that’s just part of a much bigger picture. Naturally. It’s the marriage, you see, with all its “compromises inherent within that particular relationship, all the mess. Nothing is clean, nothing straightforward, but there can be a ferocious love nonetheless.” Sure. But what about this anonymous woman’s adventures? What about her finding her desires, as well as the will to act upon them?

It’s annoying, it’s frustrating, and it’s goddamned disrespectful to that unnamed diarist. [I reject Gemmell’s attempts to situate this diary as though it were an actual, physical thing—that is, that some mysterious woman left this record behind when she disappeared from her near-perfect life for good. Cheap shot, cheap.]

Oh well. I’ll go for a little walk now, and convince myself of certain things.

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