In response to A Nonfiction Marriage by Jonathan Van Meter: http://nymag.com/arts/books/profiles/56289/
I read in the May issue of New York magazine, an article about Gay Talese and his wife, Nan; both larger than life figures in the literary world. After contributing to their community for the past 30 years, it was now time to peer inside their own story, with an article called A Nonfiction Marriage.
In the late 1970's, Gay wrote a book called Thy Neighbor's Wife; an exposé on the emergence of the Sexual Revolution, in the 1950's. Similar to Alfred Kinsey, Gay gathered his information by delving into the taboos of sexual culture in America, exploring topics from "free love" and "open relationships", to nudist colonies, prostitution, and the early porn industry.
By the time the book was released in 1980, Gay's "research" had created fractures in his own marriage and his book was met with mixed reviews from critics. Some thought him to be a genius, others thought he was a flamboyant, swinger who lived a life of sexual decadence, with little regard for his or his family's reputation.
This recent article in NY mag, followed Gay's new project; a book about the aftermath of Thy Neighbor's Wife and how it affected his personal life, his marriage, and his relationship with his children. The book will be called Thine Own Wife, a perfect compliment to his first opus.
After finishing this article, I couldn't help but have mixed emotions about the characters, Mr. and Mrs. Talese. We live in a society that eats this stuff up. Sex and infidelity are topics people are always uncomfortable discussing on their own terms, but when it comes to others' dysfunctional intimacies, we are intrigued.
For example, the movie Obsessed has been the number one movie in the country these last couple weeks. It even beat out the movie The Soloist, a cinematic gem, to claim this spot in popularity. The reason the movie did so well (which comes as no surprise to me), was not because Beyonce Knowles’ acting capabilities, it was because our society wanted to see what infidelity provoked on the big screen. We are entertained by the sexual exploits of others, like voyeurs. However, when it happens in our own lives, we justify or rationalize it any way we can, but heaven forbid we call it "normal" or "natural".
This story is original, but it isn’t. There have been many famous, creative couples, who we've romanticized their intimate lives. Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera. Jackson Pollock and Lee Krasner. Georgia O' Keefe and Alfred Stieglitz. Sylvia Plath and Edward Hughes. Their artistic genius, their self-indulgence, their volatile behavior; it's all there for us to scrutinize, because they are different and we are diffident?
My last thoughts on this piece were focused on the wife of Mr. Talese, and the wives of these men. These women were amazing artists/contributors in their own right, yet their husbands had a lot, larger shadows. Some of these women lived in their own quiet, “unknowing fog”, while their husbands flaunted their feathers. Yet others participated in the same behavior, but in a more discreet manner than their spouses. Either way, while the men were gallivanting in the spotlight, the women remained in love and supportive of their husbands, and still had the energy to make a name for themselves. What should really impress us is the beauty of this unconditional love between husbands and wives, the kind of love that fueled and inspired their art and work, and not the explicit details of male philandering.
We've seen and heard enough already!
RECOMMENDATION: "The Lives of the Muses: Nine Women and the Artists They Inspired" -Francine Prose