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This review appeared in the Autumn/Winter issue of Tiferet

 A Review of Marriage by Fire
By Adele Kenny
  
Marriage by Fire
By Nancy Scott
Big Table Publishing
ISBN: 978-1-945917-31-8
Perfect Bound, $15.00
113 Pages

Nancy Scott has proven her “know-how” over the years as a skilled poet and as a collage and mixed media artist. Her newest book, Marriage by Fire, is a virtuoso blend of memoir-like vignettes and poetry that takes readers into the life of the fictional Claire—her divorce, passions, confusions, and her search for the one elusive soul mate who will bring her happiness.

Devastatingly down-to-earth, this book examines the life of a woman, mother, career caseworker, and a strong but essentially gentle soul. In the process of Claire’s search for a loving relationship, as well as a search for herself, she weaves her way into and out of various lovers’ beds. The conversations along the way are brilliantly written with dialogue that rings true and  invites readers to stay with the story as they get to know Claire, the scarred, and the scoundrels.

Early in the book, “The Lady Was a Beard” (page 12) tells the story of a husband who preferred men.

I knew it before we were married.

… I thought I could outsmart it.
I buried it in the yard. It grew tentacles
and strangled the roots of trees.
That spring no buds appeared.
Neighbors feared a spreading blight.

… Those
who knew you were bewildered.
Some ladled platitudes; others said
you’d had a lapse in judgment.
The air grew weary with their words.
I hungered for the robust maples, poplar
leaves that shivered in the wind.
Anger gnawed on me with chiseled teeth.
I yelled at the barren trees. Neighbors
latched their shutters. I grabbed an axe
and hacked limb after limb
until the garden filled with splinters.

Claire’s tale goes on to her role as a faculty wife (“Snapshot of an Ivy League Faculty Wife,” page 16):

My husband’s chairman asks me to dance,+
his arm brushing my breast, his fingers
weaving through my dark hair.
The sacrificial lamb, I keep smiling.
Oh how I keep smiling. And the band
won’t stop playing fox-trots.

Although there is humor in the narrative and in the poems, this collection addresses the lives of many women who sacrifice themselves in relationships that fail in their search for emotional fulfillment. This is a collection that’s very much about why we do the things we do (“Mind If I Use Your Toothbrush, page 55):

If I ever wanted to reach for real intimacy, I would have to give Mike up for good, forget the way he touched me, moved in me, and made me respond. I wasn’t sure I could do that.

Mike went into the bathroom and called out, “Mind if I use your toothbrush?”
“Help yourself,” I replied.

In “Upstairs at Edgmere,” Claire becomes involved with Andy, a public figure. Sample this fragment (pages 77 and 80):

For the next half-hour, we drove in wrenching silence, punctuated only by Andy leaning on the horn several times and complaining, “Damn, why can’t that sonofabitch stay in his own lane?” then he offered, “I have a half-finished proposal waiting for me and I have to clean up the house. I haven’t touched it for a week.” He reached over and took my hand. “I’m sorry, Claire. I don’t want to burden you with this.”

“It’s not a burden,” I said. “Don’t overthink it.”

I had glimpsed Andy’s moodiness from time to time, though he carefully kept it out of his public life. Andy was always the guy with the big smile and hearty handshake. Trying to cajole him into a better mood was a challenge I wasn’t up for.

Andy and I remained friends. He got divorced the following year. When a political shake-up took him out of the running for a senate seat during the next election cycle, he decided to start over in Arizona, where I understand he’s been very successful. Good for him.

Ben and I finally got divorced after months of wrangling in court. it was probably fitting that we were married on my birthday and divorced on Bastille Day

The poem “Easter Week” (page 81) that follows describes a meeting with an old friend named Kate who apparently had a “crush” on Andy but was married to someone else and was jealous of Andy’s relationship with Claire. Claire humorously notes that Kate should get her eyelids done and surely dyes her hair.  When Kate says, “Andy married a bitch,” Claire says, “I wouldn’t know.” She’s looking at her watch, her coffee cup is empty, and  there are tulips wilting in her car. Clearly, Claire is finished with that episode in her life, and the “write off” is expressed with a strong sense of authenticity in the subtle humor that speaks to human emotion and reaction.

This is a book about discovering who we are and how we learn to tell the difference between what we want and what we need. Claire takes life head on with kinetic fervor, as well as with vulnerability. The reader wants her to succeed. Although there are moments in Claire’s story that are a kind of Tom Jones frolic, they are distinguished by layers of deeper meaning. Aside from the obvious skill with which the book was written, what stands out most is the main character’s fierceness and her refusal to give up despite the knotty world of complicated relationships, confusion, and disappointment. Superbly written and delightfully engaging, this book is gutsy, sexy, and poignant all at the same time.