Review

Marriage and Other Acts of Charity: A Memoir

by Kate Braestrup

As a minister, Kate Braestrup counsels people on marriage: how
to start one, how to enrich or endure one, and how to leave one. In
this memoir, she also draws upon her own experience with two
marriages and a serious relationship between those two weddings in
a series of illuminating essays that are by turns thoughtful,
heartbreaking, joyful and hilarious.

As readers who enjoyed the author’s previous memoir, HERE
IF YOU NEED ME, know, her first marriage to Drew, a state trooper,
ended in tragedy. Before Drew died in a car accident, their
marriage was a bit of a roller coaster. Crazy in love, they married
young, had four children and bought a dilapidated fixer-upper.
While their kids seemed content, the couple became less and less
satisfied with their marriage as time went by. In fact, Braestrup
tells us, when she and Drew went to see a marriage counselor, she
knew the marriage was a total disaster --- and she also knew
exactly where the blame lay. As she told her husband during their
counseling session:

“I have made a thorough and I think I can say
dispassionate examination of our marriage, its structures,
its sexual politics, and its relationship to the social
order…It is clear to me that the problem in our marriage is
--- not to put too fine a point on it --- you.”

Braestrup is refreshingly frank about how temper fueled the
discontent in that marriage. Both partners damaged property by
slamming doors, squealing cars out of the driveway and crashing
dishes. She even destroyed a coffee table she loved by throwing and
breaking it. Their anger escalated. And then a true miracle
happened that turned their marriage around.

Only to have it end.

Braestrup muses on the fact that all marriages inevitably end
(death, she reminds us, will part marriage partners…when that
marriage works). Yes, she tells us, we will lose our loved ones,
which is one reason it takes incredible courage to choose to love
someone. After the loved one is gone, she offers a cut-to-the-chase
and unique plan of how to proceed.

In the book, readers meet a game warden whose marriage is
unraveling. We also encounter a young couple planning their
wedding. And we thrill to (and sometimes laugh at)
Braestrup’s own two delightful love stories. After she meets
Simon, who is destined to become her second husband, she ponders
the shortcomings she would bring to a new relationship. For
example, Simon shaved his beard between their first and second
dates --- and Braestrup didn’t even notice. She also briefly
considers her breasts (although once lopsided, years of nursing
have rendered them even, but they “now dangled in comfy
symmetry on either side of my navel”), and she is more
concerned about the absent-minded way she has melted five teapots
by wandering away from them as they simmered.

MARRIAGE AND OTHER ACTS OF CHARITY is frequently laugh-out-loud
funny, as when Braestrup is guilted into teaching sexual morality
to a pack of snickering 13-year-old kids. Yet it manages to have
considerable weight without being one bit ponderous (her session
with those adolescents is comical, but it also makes for
exceptionally thought-provoking reading).

I have to admit that I was a bit wary of this book, even though
I had read rave reviews of HERE IF YOU NEED ME. But seriously,
could a book about love and marriage written by a minister actually
be enjoyable for the general reading-for-pleasure public? The
answer would be a resounding “yes” in the case of this
provocative work, which I devoured in two sittings. Readers may
alternate between being amused and tearful as they turn the pages,
but they are also likely to be inspired. MARRIAGE AND OTHER ACTS OF
CHARITY might well cause you to appraise your own relationships in
an entirely new way; I suspect it has the power to change
lives.

Reviewed by Terry Miller Shannon on January 6, 2011

Marriage and Other Acts of Charity: A Memoir
by Kate Braestrup

  • Publication Date: January 13, 2010
  • Genres: Memoir, Nonfiction
  • Hardcover: 224 pages
  • Publisher: Reagan Arthur Books
  • ISBN-10: 0316031917
  • ISBN-13: 9780316031912