"Jobe died on a cool April morning that smelled of wet earth and cherry blossoms."
With this sentence, we enter the life of new widow Carmen as she stands in her kitchen with a dish towel in one hand and a coffee cup in the other, watching her husband take his last breath. Carmen has been waiting for this moment, yearning to be alone, for more than 21 years --- ever since she married the man she knew she didn't (and possibly would never) love. Now, on this spring day in 2007, she experiences a range of emotions beginning with relief and ending with a tapestry woven of excitement, horror and dread. It feels to Carmen as if the whole world is opening up to her at last. Yet, as she contemplates the days ahead, how she must comfort Olive, her mother-in-law, and the three children sure to be devastated by their father's death, she experiences a ripple of unexpected loneliness.
"While in many ways a quiet story with a subtle arc, it is also an emotionally powerful page-turner --- memorable and exquisitely written."
Carmen anticipates telling the news to Luca, her eldest child, who is a grown man with Down syndrome. She recalls what an excellent, caring father Jobe was. It doesn't seem fair that such a loving man must die in order for her to finally be free. Suddenly, she finds herself at a loss. Jobe was the partner in the marriage who knew the procedures to follow in any given circumstance. She ponders calling 911 (surely not, she decides) and finally resolves to call Olive, although she fears she will blurt out her relief at finding herself liberated by her son's death. The only person Carmen really wants to speak to is Danny, her married librarian lover. But how to let Danny know? Texting doesn't seem quite respectful enough, given the circumstances.
As Carmen stands contemplating and unable to make a move, she gazes at her husband's body and remembers their honeymoon. Jobe came very close to dying then; he had stumbled and nearly fallen through the night far into the Mediterranean Ocean. If she hadn't saved him then, what would her life have been?
The expected happenings following Jobe's death unfold fairly uneventfully. Danny attends the funeral, unleashing mixed emotions in the new widow, who recalls the only other time her husband and her lover were in the same room. Jobe and Carmen had been eating in a restaurant along with his co-workers, fellow mathematics professors at Johns Hopkins who ogled Danny's gorgeous wife as they introduced themselves.
Carmen's story advances into her future, while alternating chapters recount her past. Now, as she faces a breast cancer diagnosis and her own mortality, she also experiences regret and yearning.
Author Ann Bauer walks a fine line here, managing to give us sensitive and searingly honest insights into Carmen's character, which is definitely flawed, while avoiding an unsympathetic portrayal. In fact, the people of THE FOREVER MARRIAGE (Carmen especially) are almost disquietingly realistic, making them seem like people we might know. As a result, readers are pulled into their lives, and we feel a commitment to these characters. While in many ways a quiet story with a subtle arc, it is also an emotionally powerful page-turner --- memorable and exquisitely written.
Reviewed by Terry Miller Shannon on September 7, 2012
The Forever Marriage