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Posted January 23, 2013
I have read a few books lately whose topic is that marriage is n
I have read a few books lately whose topic is that marriage is not what it seems. Gillian Flynn's Gone Girl shows us the remnants of a bad marriage through the unreliable eyes of both spouses. Chris Pavone's The Expats uses the spy game as a metaphor for how little we really know how our own spouse.
Ben Schrank's novel Love Is a Canoe has a different take. Peter Herman wrote a hugely successful self-help book titled Love Is a Canoe, filled with the wisdom his loving grandparents shared with him as a teen. They taught him the importance of being respectful, treating the person you love with kindness, and many other bromides.
Peter fell in love with a young girl one summer when he was with his grandparents, and following his grandparents' advice, he pursued this girl and eventually married her. They bought an inn and restaurant in upstate New York and lived a happy life.
His wife fell ill and died, and now Peter is dating someone. He hasn't written anything else, and his publishing company has reissued his book many times, still selling a few copies here and there.
Stella is a young editor at the publishing house trying to move up the ladder. She comes up with an idea for a contest where couples would write in asking for marital advice. The winner would spend the day with Peter, stay at his inn and get some helpful guidance from him.
There were a few problems: Peter has had little contact with his publisher over the years, and they had to find just the right couple. Only one couple fits the bill- Emily and Eli. They have been happily married, until Eli cheated on Emily with a work colleague. Will Peter be able to help them? Stella's career depends on it.
There is a lot of inside stuff about working at a publishing house. The woman who is running the company is feared by all, and she was the editor on Peter's book. Schrank works for Penguin publishing and he shows us the pitch meetings, the jockeying for position, and the day-to-day inner workings. It is great fun to read, and this was my favorite part of the book.
This book surprised me with where it was going, and I truly like that in a novel. Taking that ride and not knowing where we'd end up was exciting. People are not necessarily who we have been led to believe, and things are not as they always appear.
The characters are well-drawn, although I thought people were too hard on Stella, ascribing character flaws to her that I do not believe she had. Schrank juggled the various storylines- Peter, Stella at the publishing house and Emily and Eli's marriage- so well that each one of these stories could have made for an interesting book. He brings them together skillfully.
In the end, my general feelings about self-help books were vindicated, but I'm not going to tell you what they are for that would ruin the ending of this wonderful book.
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