My rating: 2 of 5 stars
The Dangerous Husband by Jane Shapiro is the story of a 40-year-old woman, who “had never managed to be married” but finds herself falling in love with a man she meets at a Thanksgiving dinner party. The courtship is swift, and, after a brief, passionate honeymoon period, they start to really get to know one another. And that’s when all the “accidents” start taking place.
Even before the marriage, only a couple weeks after their first meeting, he loses his job and decides to live off an inheritance and write a novel. Soon after the marriage, the wife begins to learn other things that surprise her – he’d been married several times before, he has a certain clumsiness that becomes more pronounced with time – but the many good characteristics, such as his desire to please her at all times, with gifts, attentiveness and affection, keep her firmly committed to the marriage … at first. But the clumsiness that accompanies these attentions soon puts her at physical risk.
Taken in a purely metaphorical sense, this is a fairly clever story. For a woman marrying for the first time at 40 when she meets someone charming, in a way giving in to societal expectations, perhaps after years of listening to questions like, “When are you going to get married? Don’t you want a nice husband? Don’t you want someone to grow old with?” and, as a consequence, not only not being happier than when single, but actually risking serious injury as a result of the union – it shows us that the grass isn’t always greener. And the negatives keep piling up, as friends fall away and even the household pets meet unpleasant fates.
But there was just something about the writing I didn’t like. The jacket description calls it a “witty, dark, brilliantly funny novel,” which I think gave me the wrong expectations. It was certainly dark, somewhat witty, but I found nothing at all funny about it. On the contrary, it made me rather sad: sad for the wife, who felt, even at 40, that her life would not be complete unless she tried marriage on for size; sad for the husband, who had married so many times, hoping to find the real thing, only to drive his wives away out of fear for their safety; and of course, sad that this kind of story has to be told. That being a lifelong single person still carries so much stigma.