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Tuesday, October 02, 2007

Mad Dash

****½ Mad Dash by Patricia Gaffney. Women's fiction.

Patricia Gaffney's women's fiction books are a real challenge for me. I can't resist them, because she's such a fabulous writer, and because she's witty and wise and, well, I don't think it's exaggerating much to call her a goddess. On the other hand, it's women's fiction. In general, it's the one genre I loathe. At best, it's serious. At worst, it's whiny women who blame men for all their problems. It's a good thing I love Gaffney, because otherwise I'd hate her. Not only does she make me read women's fiction... she makes me love it.

Dash and Andrew have been married nearly 20 years. He's a stuffy history professor, she's a free-spirited photographer. Dash's mother died recently, and now their only child is going off to college. Then a puppy shows up on their doorstep. Dash wants to keep it, Andrew's allergic. Dash and the puppy out, going to their cottage.

Andrew: She's leaving me? Over a puppy?
Dash: How can he not see that it's not about the puppy?

I'd venture to say that most long-married couples will recognize the spirit behind their confusion--Pat has human nature down so well that these characters feel utterly real.

Like many couples in their situation, they've taken each other for granted, focused on their careers, their children, their aging parents, and when that outside focus is taken away, they find themselves married to someone they don't know, and maybe don't even like all that much. And the women (though this could apply to men, too, but in this case, it's Dash) discover that after years of devoting themselves to other people--husband, parents, children--there's nothing left of themselves.

How Dash and Andrew cope with the separation and learn and grow and find themselves and each other again is a story full of warmth and humor and pain and love and realism. It's truly a wonderful book.

All the moreso because it brought me to some odd realizations. At the start of the book, I was terribly irritated with Dash and Andrew. Didn't they ever talk to each other? Why didn't they just have a big fight and clear the air? Heck, I've been married 23 years, and I don't have problems like that in my marriage....

And there it was. A weird little thing in my psyche that was making me react personally to Dash and Andrew's marital problems. There are some things you just know about yourself, the way you know the color of your eyes, and which hand you use. I know that I'm intellectually smart and socially stupid. So Andrew and Dash made me question my assumptions, which is uncomfortable as hell, especially when it's such a deeply entrenched assumption.

Not that you really want to see how my mind works, but it went something like this:
  • I suck at social interaction/emotional things.
  • When things bother me in my marriage, I start a huge screaming argument until we hash things out and settle them.
  • Dash and Andrew wouldn't dream of doing that.
  • Dash and Andrew must be more emotionally savvy than me (everybody is).
  • So my approach must be wrong.
  • Their relationship is falling apart.
  • So why isn't mine?
Yeah, I'm a mess. Isn't everyone? Turns out what I'm bad at isn't relationships, but at not questioning assumptions. And boy, is that a can of worms.

Anyway, once I got done with the little epiphany, I thoroughly enjoyed the rest of the book.

By the way, Mad Dash is the current discussion on the Cherry Forums Book Club. It's a lot more interesting there, undoubtedly. Check it out.


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