This Week’s Whopper of a Page-Turner

Well, I’m still plowing through The Great Debate: Edmund Burke, Thomas Paine, and the Birth of Right and Left by the great Yuval Levin, a book about the warring philosophies of Edmund Burke (often seen as a great figure in the history of conservatism) and Thomas Paine (often seen as a proponent of radicalism in the pursuit of freedom). It’s an audio book of ten and a half hours, and I’m only at 4:10:59, so I’m not even halfway through. The ideas are really very interesting, and the writing is clear, but boy is it dense! I can only get through so much at a time. Every time I listen to a section I feel as if my mind is being expanded, but then I have to take a break.

Funnily enough, though, it took me no time at all to listen to this week’s book pick, The Wife Between Us: A Novel. (Well, it took me exactly the time of the book’s length, 11 hours and 14 minutes, but you know what I mean.) The co-authors had been interviewed last Friday on Gretchen Rubin’s website, and they sounded pretty cool, so I spent one of my unused credits for the audiobook. (I figured I’d have to wait forever to get it from the library.) Aside from the narrator’s strange way of reading any lines by male characters she did a great job. And the plot . . . ah, the plot. Masterful, is all I can say. At first you’ll think that this is just some generic Danielle Steele novel, with its detailed descriptions of a woman’s activities as she puts on makeup and gets dressed for the day. I was a little put off by it, and I think that’s exactly what the authors meant to happen. Just keep going. There’s a real twister there. (Also a few sex scenes that are somewhat graphic but very brief and a few scattered profanities. Just so you know.) In the words of the Amazon description, “Twisted and deliciously chilling, The Wife Between Us exposes the secret complexities of an enviable marriage – and the dangerous truths we ignore in the name of love. Listen for the truth between the lies.”

I don’t want to give anything away, so I’m not going to discuss the plot. However, I can certainly discuss the idea that this is a tale of hidden and conflicting emotions, of the truth underneath the surface. And then, just as I was thinking about this whole male/female surface/depths deception/reality thing, the mess about Aziz Ansari hit the fan. Since I’m not sure how many of my readers are familiar with him, I’ll just say that he’s a very famous and successful comedian and actor, having had a leading role on “Parks and Recreation” (a TV show which I have never watched, but which seems to be something similar to “The Office,” a TV show of which I have watched about five minutes and just didn’t get at all) and a standup career. He was raised Muslim, born of parents from India, and had been seen as a great example of someone who could riff off of his ethnic background and yet be totally “woke.” I had seen his 2016 book Modern Romance on the new books shelves at the library and thought, ‘Oh yeah—that’s that guy . . . ‘ and checked it out. My primary emotion as I finished it? Sadness. It was supposed to be a funny, hip take on the current state of sexual attraction, but it’s really just a downer. Everything’s kind of transactional. What’s in it for me? Could I find somebody better if I kept swiping on whatever-that-app-is? I want true love, but not right now. But right now I’m so lonely I could die. And so forth.

Anyway, back in September this girl met up with Ansari at a party and apparently tried very hard to attract his attention, which she succeeded in doing successfully enough that he called her later for a “date.” What’s very obvious from how this particular evening went is that Ansari wasn’t really interested in what we old fuddy-duddies think of as a date, which is an opportunity to get to know each other and to see if further involvement is warranted. No, he was up for a casual hookup. But “Grace” (not her real name) certainly saw the get-together as a possible gateway to something bigger. When, instead, she found herself back at Ansari’s apartment being propositioned to do all sorts of things that she didn’t really want to do, she did these things anyway, until it all just got to be too much and she left. And now, months later, she’s written (or had written for her) what has been called “3,000 words of revenge porn.” Ansari is the outed and shamed man of the week.

Well, it’s a sorry tale all around. I’m not going to get into the whole whose-fault-was-all-this debate, as there’s puh-lenty of blame to go around. What intrigues me, and saddens me, is that it’s just the Ansari book all over again. Nobody seems to realize that love takes time and respect. Nobody seems to realize that the bare physical activities, shorn of any real emotion, are profoundly unsatisfying. I have never, ever understood why anyone would want to expose himself or herself, literally and figuratively, to someone who hasn’t proven to be trustworthy in any way, much less to be actually interested. Why would you want to do that? It all seems fairly crazy to me, and that’s before we even get into the morality side of things.

And now, on top of all the Ansari brouhaha, there’s the bombshell about the porn star and the President. (Although this particular story has been relegated to second-tier status this week because of all the other bombshells that have been exploding. And I’m not linking to any of the plethora of stories about it.) And it’s the same, same story, except that this time the girl knows that she’d better git while the gittin’s good. Not that that’s a point in her favor, you understand! But I just have to ask, “Why bother? How, under any circumstances, is this whole sordid mess worth it?”

Well, back to my book review. I would say that it’s way more than a romantic thriller. It honestly made me think pretty deeply about how we navigate our emotional/romantic lives. I’d highly recommend it, with the caveats above. If you’re not dying to get your hands on it, you can certainly put it on hold at the library. And then, if you’re accessing the audiobook, plan a big project, one that will take you about 11 hours. Yes, that should be about right.

If you’d like a couple of hot takes on the Ansari tale by two very, very sharp women, I’d recommend the following (but I would not recommend that you follow the link provided to the actual story in; the excerpts I’ve read have been way more than enough for me):

The Humiliation of Aziz Ansari” by Caitlin Flanagan, The Atlantic

Real Message of #MeToo: The Sexual Revolution Has Not Been Kind to Women” by Mona Charen, National Review

This post contains affiliate links. If you click through to the Amazon site and purchase the book or any other item, I will receive a small commission at no additional cost to you.

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