Heather Havrilesky’s new memoir, Foreverland: On the Divine Tedium of Marriage, plainly makes its claim in the title: a long marriage is a series of contradictory truths. There is the honeymoon phase, and then there is the grind.
The current buzz around the book begs the question: Who is allowed to tell these truths, and under what circumstances?
Havrilesky has been widely quoted — in The New York Times, on The View and elsewhere — referring to her husband as “a heap of laundry” and “a snoring heap of meat,” and criticized for being mean. Yet she also refers to him in the book as “my best friend, my therapist and my mother in one.”
The former Ask Polly advice columnist took to Twitter to call out what she sees as bias in the book’s reception.
“I wrote a funny, romantic book that underscores the challenges of marriage and paints my husband as the hero of the story, and from the NY Times review from the tabloid coverage to The View, it’s been warped to ‘Wife’s Is Total Bitch,'” she wrote.
The women of The View, who admitted to only having read “snippets” of the actual book, had a couple of complaints. Whoopi Goldberg, in particular, disapproved of Havrilesky comparing her husband to laundry and meat, saying, “You don’t need to call people funny names.” Also, in introducing the topic, Goldberg called Havrilesky a “journalist, wife and mother” — which makes you wonder whether she would call a male author a husband and father.
Fellow comedian Joy Behar was sympathetic to Havrilesky’s plight, remembering that she received an outsized amount of criticism for making one offhand joke about her husband, noting that people were quick to assume that she did so without her husband’s consent and support.
Co-host Sunny Hostin may have peeled back to the heart of the matter, reading the following from the book: “It’s insane and completely deluded to set out to stay with the same person until you’re dead. The madness of the venture creates comedy at every turn because obviously we fail and disappoint ourselves all the time.”
“I think that’s all true,” Hostin said, “but she wrote it down.”
In his NYT review, author Walter Kirn — who, incidentally, wrote a book of his own about his friendship with a con man/murderer — says Havrilesky writes “endlessly” about her husband’s flaws in a “one-sided bargain” in which she does not sufficiently detail her own shortcomings. Kirn also dismisses her observations on matrimony from her 16-year experience, noting, “How well can an institution be explained by a single instance of it?” As if any memoir were something other than a detailed exploration of the “single instance” of a life.
Remember Michelle Obama joking about Barack’s bad breath? It was received at the time as sweet and funny, a devoted wife presenting her beloved husband’s full humanity. But it’s hard to imagine that being received well today. We seem prepared to allow a woman either success or humor, but refuse to allow her to enjoy both at the same time.