Sunday, June 24, 2012

Portrait from a marriage: matching the profession to the estate

Mirth - not an experience so
often associated with Graham
Greene as it is with mascul-
ine disappointment in our Age
of Bob Dole - is what floats
to the surface as Peter takes
Poopy to Antibes, to dispatch his honeymoon chores. Oops. Yet, with aid of a pair of 
humane interior designers 
(and I know, this is not merely plural but redundant), his conjugal distraction is
relieved in the usual way, and he returns to his bride with such elation in the acquisition of two new chums as to impart it with no trace of his previous reserve. And what a blessèd convenience, that the new couple's manse must be so extensively redone.

You can well imagine my bemusement, on discovering this classic of Greene's virtually on the day of my marriage's dissolution in Santa Clara County; and such a svelte little Penguin it is, as almost the cornerstone of my decor to this day. Yet as Tolstoy says, not all alliances dissolve for the same reason; in mine, one of us didn't care for California. I beg you to believe. How enormously I'd have preferred a clever pergola for our tidepool than to have paid a pack of lawyers to leave us alone. I cannot drive down to Monterey Bay, and see the sea otters crack the abalone open on their chests, without the sense that gastronomy, too, saves a California marriage.

Graham Greene
May We Borrow Your Husband?
Penguin and Bodley Head, 1969©


  1. I had forgotten "May we Borrow Your Husband" so long ago did I read it. I shall buy it again - I think I'm old enough now to get the point.

    Last night we watched a French film, "The Hedgehog", based on the book "The Elegance of the Hedgehog" and when one of the characters says "All happy families are alike; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way" it reminded me that, as with Graham Greene's book, I was to young to read Anna Kerenina.

    1. Dear Blue, I note with alarm the texts I've reserved for "when I'm old enough" - a principle in which experience has taught me, to believe - as they pile up on my dinner table, sometimes literally, as I contemplate their great number and the many recruitment drives my bachelor existence must involve, to gain the proper company to discuss them.

      Greene is in that category for a number of reasons, but I read him "then," and so one has to let him stand for the proposition, that so much will have to be re-read, too, in the light of greater maturity or changed circumstances. Is Greene's mid-century anti-imperialism, for example, still a plausible foundation for a personal crisis, in the age of sovereignties undermined by central banks or dismissed by drone attacks? Is his depiction of the moral struggles of Roman Catholicism the slightest bit pertinent - I really don't jest in this construction - when the Church, herself will endure and share and permit herself to be tested by none of it? Greene understood impacability; he'd have been challenged by smugness. But the point is, in the "re-reading" category of the deferred text, how multifariously it seems to appeal after many more years. This was happily true of Greene's slender story, at least for me.

      But you're right, there he is. Tolstoy, and the arrival of maturity, and Mann - I would add. Did we (speaking impersonally) conserve our respect for longer arcs of pleasure and perception, which this "deal" presumed? And when is it timely to find out?

      You captivate me with the reference to this film, which I am sure I'd wish to borrow, too. The "knows one thing" concept, familiar to all, is a reliable construct for comedy and for drama; and the reviews you've inspired me to read, embarrass me for having missed it.

      But there you are, as I've intimated before. One must "borrow your Celt" to make sense of things for a moment. Surely you couldn't mind.

      Thank you for your sweet Sunday visit!