In the first diary entry of The Stoic's Marriage, the first of the two novellas in Two Marriages by Phillip Lopate, the diarist proclaims that all unhappy marriages are alike--it's the good marriages that require, "alertness, vigilance." Gordon, the self-proclaimed stoic and chronicler of this novella, is a paunchy, fifty-ish New York intellectual, living off family wealth in the Brooklyn brownstone he inherited from his mother. A confirmed bachelor who has lived mostly in his head and his books, the diary is Gordon's record of his beautiful miracle of a marriage.
That, at least, is the intention. Lopate perfectly captures Gordon's voice, that of a hyper-intellectual who is acutely self-aware (of his personal flaws, of his intellectual gifts, of his culture and privilege), maddeningly unaware of what those around him are feeling, and touchingly unaware of what those around him are capable of doing.
Gordon meets Rita when his mother is dying. She is one of the round-the-clock caregivers he's hired to look after his mother. She is younger than he, a beautiful, voluptuous Filipina in the country on a work visa, and he is awed and flattered when she returns his tentative advances. Three months later they are married. As is so often the case, things change. Gordon and Rita grow to know one another better, he learns about her past, and with increasing rapidity that past begins to encroach on their present.
Although the events that follow are wacky and outrageous, and even kind of funny, still, Gordon's development as a person is heartbreakingly realistic and believable. Gordon, a not entirely likeable character for most of the story in the end earns our sympathy and compassion.
In the second novella, Eleanor, or, The Second Marriage we eavesdrop upon a very different sort of relationship. It is the second marriage for both Eleanor and Frank, each has his own career, friends, children; together they have fashioned the ideal life. Once again, we have privileged New York intellectuals living in Brooklyn. Over the course of one weekend truths emerge, lies are revealed, and cracks emerge in the marriage's facade. Still, though the end is ambiguous, we have hope for Eleanor and Frank.
From love's initial elation and the infatuation which turns flaws into charming quirks, and on through the settling down period, up to final disillusionment, Lopate has love down. He is not, however, down on love. I was satisfied upon finishing Two Marriages, satisfied because I had read two lovely, artful novellas and satisfied by the portrayal of the resilience of the human spirit. Perhaps love doesn't conquer all, but even having loved makes life richer and more meaningful.