Book Review: “Foreverland” — Bound Until Death

By Drew Hart

Here’s to Heather and Bill, and this lively saga…

Foreverland: On the Divine Tedium of Marriage by Heather Havrilesky. Ecco, 304 pp., $22.39.

Let’s have some fun, and start this appraisal of most clever (and sometimes incendiary) advice columnist Heather Havrilesky’s chronicle of matrimony with some quotes from your FC’s (Faithful Correspondent, not Futbol Club!) grandfather. Who said: “Marriage isn’t a word, it’s a sentence.” He also said: “Definition of a Bachelor – a man who never makes the same mistake once.” Meanwhile, the other grandfather said, “Don’t get married unless you can’t help it.” Still another quote that comes to mind — from a magnet on an old friend’s refrigerator — “Why do I have to get Married, I didn’t do anything Wrong!” To that echo chamber of warnings about this sacred, if embattled, institution, we now go to Heather’s new book, Foreverland and learn similar sentiments: “Your marriage will die, or you will die”; “Marriage is a lifelong market correction to true love’s overvaluation.”  And if marriage Is foreverland?  “Forever is set in New Zealand, not New Jersey.” Hmm, isn’t New Zealand pretty far away from almost everywhere?

With all the gloom and doom, it’s a wonder anyone ever gets married at all, and Havrilesky, who’s dished advice out for New York magazine and is now running two very catchy Substack columns (especially inventive is her “Ask Molly” project), spends a lot of Foreverland wondering herself. Though living in Los Angeles in a marriage to (she says) a handsome, as well as considerate, UCLA professor — Bill — she is ‘forever’ noticing problems with the relationship, and… with him in particular. He’s “phlegmy,” “wears golf shirts.” He is “a fixer-upper,” “a smelly heap of laundry,” “bad at learning.” And he “literally has nothing to say like all men”(!)  Yikes, exclamation mine!

But if it seems as though her book sounds like a diatribe, as its story unspools, it’s proven that there’s another difficult ingredient — our author herself. Just as importantly, there’s more than just dirty laundry. True, the episodes are filled with chaos and domestic tantrums, right from the beginning. A wobbly pre-engagement trip to France and Spain (which was excerpted in the NY Times). A nine year-old stepson becoming part of the picture (Bill was previously married; interestingly the fact that his ex- is now with another woman is unobserved?) Then, a 107º wedding ceremony in Palm Springs. And Then? Children of their own; bad day care facilities; nannies; nursing in restaurants; relatives who are clueless and judgmental. They move to a plain vanilla suburb, near Glendale, where people “talk about Disneyland unironically.” Her tirades about life there are especially amusing, although earlier opinions of the hipster neighbors they’ve left behind in L.A. are equally funny. Later comes a holiday road trip to North Carolina, the result of their being late for a flight, and a somewhat crummy trip to the Great Barrier Reef. There are also plenty of colorful passages about child rearing, from infancy through talent shows and cheerleading tryouts. One event is a minor midlife crisis: she finds herself fantasizing about another man, a writer she’s met. Out to dinner with him, she’s startled when it seems like he’s playing footsie with her under the table. But it’s in her head, and nothing comes of it…

This would all seem like fodder for a casual book club, some modern day Erma Bombeck, but it isn’t. Along the way there are therapy sessions to navigate; a personal scare with a brush with breast cancer and preventative surgery accompanied by difficult drug therapy. Not to mention the arrival of COVID, which traps the family at home. Yet these challenges are tests for the marriage that they successfully overcome, and if anything, they reveal its strength. The aggravation is somehow worth it, the relationship only more binding.

We’re still tackling the pandemic when this tale finds a stopping place, but hopefully its ending points to a bright future. If not every marriage is a success — some will relate to the observation that they can end because “maybe your spouse truly Is terrible” (raises hand!) — this one will endure. Yup, as is said here, “this is just how it feels to be doomed to live and eat and sleep next to the same person until you’re dead.” A conundrum, a poor thing but your own. All well-captured — here’s to Heather and Bill, and this lively saga…

Drew Hart writes from Santa Barbara, California

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  1. Maleficent on March 4, 2022 at 8:40 pm

    Fantastic review, well written & amusing if jaded. The bias comes as no surprise with one given-life is dynamic. Without religion & associated guilt surely the statistics would offer more doom & gloom for this ritual of marriage.

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