A Happy Marriage

( 30 )

Overview

A Happy Marriage, Yglesias’s return to fiction after a thirteen-year hiatus, was inspired by his relationship with his wife, who died in 2004. Both intimate and expansive, it is a stunningly candid novel that alternates between the romantic misadventures of the first weeks of the courtship of Enrique Sabas and his wife Margaret and the final months of her life as she says good-bye to her family, friends, and children—and to Enrique. Spanning thirty years, this achingly honest story is about what it means for two ...

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A Happy Marriage: A Novel

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Overview

A Happy Marriage, Yglesias’s return to fiction after a thirteen-year hiatus, was inspired by his relationship with his wife, who died in 2004. Both intimate and expansive, it is a stunningly candid novel that alternates between the romantic misadventures of the first weeks of the courtship of Enrique Sabas and his wife Margaret and the final months of her life as she says good-bye to her family, friends, and children—and to Enrique. Spanning thirty years, this achingly honest story is about what it means for two people to spend a lifetime together—and what makes a happy marriage. “Anyone in a relationship will be able to relate,” said USA TODAY .

Told from the husband’s point of view, with revelatory and sometimes disarming candor, the novel charts the ebb and flow of marriage, illuminating both the mundane moments and the magic. Bold, elegiac, and emotionally suspenseful, Yglesias’s beautiful novel will break every reader’s heart—while encouraging all of us with its clear-eyed evocation of the enduring value of marital love.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"[A] devastatingly raw appraisal of a nearly 30-year marriage...heart-wrenching." — Publishers Weekly

"Rafael Yglesias's novel — long and graceful and written to display an intimacy wincingly believable — is about life, itself, not just one particular marriage. As the book alternates between past and present, we grow, along with the characters: as they jump boundaries, so do we; as they resign themselves to a sad inevitability, we feel viscerally cornered, too. It's a punch-in-the-stomach book, but the sharpness forces us to open our eyes wide. Impressive." — Ann Beattie, author of Follies

"Yglesias mixes passion and pain in this deep and searing story of love. With unflinching honesty, he reveals the resilience of the human spirit in the face of illness and loss." — Jerome Groopman, author of How Doctors Think

"A profound deliberation on the nature of love, marriage and the process of dying.... A tour de force... [Yglesias] has found the novel of his life." — Dinitia Smith, New York Times

"Maybe marriage is the oldest story in the world, but in Mr. Yglesias' tender, funny, rueful telling, the lifelong relationship is the story of life itself." — The Wall Street Journal

"Surprising and deeply affecting... A very brave book indeed." — Nancy Connors, The Plain Dealer (Cleveland)

"Brave ... instantly compelling." — Scott Muskin, Minneapolis Star-Tribune

"Beautiful... Yglesias is a superb and courageous writer.... [A] riveting portrait of enduring love, with all its grand imperfections." — Karen Karbo, Bookforum

"Poignant and heartbreaking…. Anyone in a relationship will be able to relate.”—Craig Wilson, USA Today

“Enrique and Margaret are anything but common, distinct both as characters and in the endurance of their love.”—Malena Watrous, New York Times Book Review

Malena Watrous
…full of feeling but void of bathos…The mystery of what's at the heart of a marriage can't be unlocked, or even fully captured in words. But Enrique and Margaret are anything but common, distinct both as characters and in the endurance of their love.
—The New York Times Book Review
Dinitia Smith
Rafael Yglesias has transformed the story of his life and that of his wife, Margaret Joskow, who died in 2004, into a profound deliberation on the nature of love, marriage and the process of dying.
—The New York Times
Publishers Weekly

Yglesias (Fearless) delivers his first novel in 13 years, an autobiographical and devastatingly raw appraisal of a nearly 30-year marriage. As the novel opens in 1975, 21-year-old Enrique Sabas, a high school-dropout literary wunderkind, has just met Margaret Cohen, a vivacious, beautiful budding graphic designer who will become the love of his life. Enrique and Margaret's romantic and sexual misadventures during the first awkward weeks of their courtship are interspersed with scenes from the couple's three decades together before Margaret succumbs to cancer: raising children, losing a parent, the temptation of an easy affair. Margaret's physical decline and Enrique's acknowledgment of guilt, inadequacy and a selfish desire to postpone his loss are described in blunt, heart-wrenching detail, and Enrique's ongoing struggles to define the nature of masculinity, the significance of art and the value of marriage add a philosophical layer to the domestic snapshots. Although the couple's privileged lifestyle can get in the way of the reader-character bond, the texture of their marriage and the pain of their loss will be familiar to anyone who has shared a long-term relationship. (July)

Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
Library Journal

Enrique and Margaret Sabas have been married for 30 years. Now, Margaret is under hospice care in the final stages of cancer and asks Enrique to control access to her during her final days so that she can say good-bye to a select few on her own terms. Enrique does so, patiently waiting for his own turn. As he waits, he remembers their life together, from their first conversation forward. Yglesias alternates between past and present, contrasting the budding and then mature relationship to the sad reality of its end. This heartbreaking story is told from personal experience, adding to the deep and vivid depiction of events. Yglesias, the author of eight other novels (e.g., Fearless) and several screenplays, provides a moving and emotional picture of how a successful marriage comes to be-and ends.
—Joanna M. Burkhardt

Kirkus Reviews
Autobiographical work from novelist/screenwriter Yglesias (Dr. Neruda's Cure for Evil, 1996, etc.) chronicles a man's confrontation with the imminent death of his wife. The novel begins with the 1975 meeting of precocious young novelist Enrique Sabas and beautiful, artistic Margaret Cohen in his walk-up Greenwich Village apartment, then flashes forward to the novel's present, when she begs him to help her die rather than let her suffer anymore from terminal cancer. From there, odd-numbered chapters chronicle the couple's courtship and flawed marriage; even-numbered ones return to the present, as Enrique, now a successful screenwriter, searches for the strength to help his wife bid loved ones farewell and die with dignity. The flashbacks illuminate Enrique's psychology but give the narrative a disjointed quality. The back story devolves into confessional: Enrique blames himself for unhappiness in their marriage, breast-beating over his lack of sexual self-esteem due to occasional impotence-which makes an absurd combination with a libido depicted as so ravenous that it has strained his relationship with Margaret. Enrique's painful honesty about his pathological self-consciousness and solipsism might, in lighter doses, pass for self-deprecation, but when he tells us all about the technological wonder of his Treo smartphone before turning his attention to his dying wife, he is both unlikable and impossible to take seriously. Granted, he's under extreme emotional duress. The frequency with which his mind wanders over trite details unrelated to the dire matters at hand, however, make it exceedingly hard to buy into the tragic scenario the author has set up-that Enrique has only recently becomeaware that his wife is the love of his life. Near the end, past and present scenes alternate with greater rapidity, contrasting early episodes of romance and sex with the brutal details of Margaret's progress toward death. Yglesias knows how to pluck the heartstrings but flounders in the execution. A would-be tragedy that plays unsuccessfully on the inherent fascination with sex and death. Author events in Los Angeles and New York Tri-State Area. Agent: Lynn Nesbit/Janklow & Nesbit
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781439102312
  • Publisher: Scribner
  • Publication date: 8/10/2010
  • Pages: 371
  • Sales rank: 404,505
  • Product dimensions: 8.60 (w) x 11.28 (h) x 0.94 (d)

Meet the Author

Rafael Yglesias

Rafael Yglesias is an American novelist and screenwriter. He dropped out of high school upon publication of his first novel in 1972 at age 17. He is the author of nine novels, including Dr. Neruda’s Cure For Evil and Fearless, which he adapted for the screen. He also wrote the screenplays for Death And The Maiden, Les Miserables, From Hell, and Dark Water. He has two grown sons and lives in New York’s Greenwich Village.

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Introduction

Questions and Topics for Discussion

1. The chapters in A Happy Marriage alternate between the first few weeks of Enrique and Margaret's relationship and twenty-nine years later, as Margaret is in the final weeks of her battle with cancer. Why do you think author Rafael Yglesias structured the novel in this way? How might your response to the novel be different if the timeline were linear?

2. Enrique frequently mentions that he's half Jewish and half Spanish. Do you believe his heritage influences him and how he interacts with others?

3. "She was going to die and he was not; in the undeclared war of marriage, it was an appalling victory" (pg. 23). What does Enrique mean by an "undeclared war"? What does the institution of marriage mean to both Enrique and Margaret?

4. After she can no longer fight to stay alive, Margaret makes a series of choices about her death and her funeral and how she says her goodbyes to the people who are important to her. What do you think about these decisions she makes?

5. On his way to the orphans' dinner, Enrique "wanted to be late....which was odd, because he wanted more than anything to be alone with her" (pg. 57). Why is Enrique so nervous about how others perceive him? What examples are there of Enrique's vanity preventing him from getting what he wants? When, if ever, does he feel comfortable?

6. How did Enrique's early success as an author affect him? "He really was an American Raskolnikov, too intelligent to be reconciled to his unimportance and helpless to escape it" (pg. 64). Why does Enrique believe he cannot escape "unimportance"? Does Margaret feel the same way about him? Does Enrique remind you of any otherliterary characters?

7. Enrique frequently notes Margaret's blue eyes. What do they represent to him?

8. How does her diagnosis change Margaret's relationship with her mother, if at all?

9. How does the Sabas family compare to the Cohens? Are their reactions to Margaret's illness consistent with their characters?

10. During their first few weeks together, Enrique continuously finds himself unable to consummate their relationship because he says he's "afraid." What frightens him?

11. After years of rejecting Enrique's attempts to give her a pleasing birthday gift, he finally succeeds and Margaret leaves it up to him to choose the site of her grave. What does this mean to Enrique?

12. Were you surprised by Enrique's affair with Margaret's friend, Sally? Were they really in love, or was Enrique longing for his "reckless youth," when he was seemingly free of obligations? Why doesn't he leave with Sally? And what do you think of his choice never to tell Margaret? Is total honesty good or bad for a relationship?

13. Enrique and Margaret have a close, intimate relationship, but at times their intense love for each other almost borders on hate. Discuss their connection and how they strive to make it work. Why did it take Margaret's diagnosis for Enrique to realize what she really meant to his life?

14. "He was allowed to be the free-range artist that she had adventurously married — except with her; she wanted him trussed up like a roast" (pg. 252). Was Margaret really this controlling? If so, was she aware of how her behavior affected Enrique?

15. Margaret tells her husband, "I'm not like you. It took me a while to find out. I don't need to paint to be happy. I'm happy. Here. With you" (pg. 295). What does her art mean to Margaret, and why is her work so important to Enrique?

16. "He said his paltry goodbye and she was deaf to it" (pg. 358). Why does Enrique wait so long to tell her what she's meant to him?

17. Who or what is the love of Enrique's life?

Tips to Enhance Your Book Club

1. Rafael Yglesias adapted one of his earlier novels, Fearless, into a film. After discussing A Happy Marriage, watch the movie as a group. Are there parallels between the film and A Happy Marriage?

2. A significant portion of the novel takes place in New York City's Greenwich Village during the 1970s. Since culture was so important to many of the characters, do research on what music was popular during that era, and play the songs during your meeting.

3. Like Enrique, Yglesias dropped out of high school to write his first book, Hide Fox, and All After. Read the novel and see how the teenager's work compares to the adult's.

4. To read about Rafael Yglesias's novels, movies and upcoming appearances, make sure to visit www.rafaelyglesias.com.

Rafael Yglesias is an American novelist and screenwriter. He dropped out of high school upon publication of his first novel in 1972 at age 17.  He is the author of nine novels, including Dr. Neruda's Cure For Evil and Fearless, which he adapted for the screen.  He also wrote the screenplays for Death And The Maiden, Les Miserables, From Hell, and Dark Water.  He has two grown sons and lives in New York's Greenwich Village.

Read More Show Less

Reading Group Guide

Questions and Topics for Discussion

1. The chapters in A Happy Marriage alternate between the first few weeks of Enrique and Margaret's relationship and twenty-nine years later, as Margaret is in the final weeks of her battle with cancer. Why do you think author Rafael Yglesias structured the novel in this way? How might your response to the novel be different if the timeline were linear?

2. Enrique frequently mentions that he's half Jewish and half Spanish. Do you believe his heritage influences him and how he interacts with others?

3. "She was going to die and he was not; in the undeclared war of marriage, it was an appalling victory" (pg. 23). What does Enrique mean by an "undeclared war"? What does the institution of marriage mean to both Enrique and Margaret?

4. After she can no longer fight to stay alive, Margaret makes a series of choices about her death and her funeral and how she says her goodbyes to the people who are important to her. What do you think about these decisions she makes?

5. On his way to the orphans' dinner, Enrique "wanted to be late....which was odd, because he wanted more than anything to be alone with her" (pg. 57). Why is Enrique so nervous about how others perceive him? What examples are there of Enrique's vanity preventing him from getting what he wants? When, if ever, does he feel comfortable?

6. How did Enrique's early success as an author affect him? "He really was an American Raskolnikov, too intelligent to be reconciled to his unimportance and helpless to escape it" (pg. 64). Why does Enrique believe he cannot escape "unimportance"? Does Margaret feel the same way about him? Does Enrique remind you of any other literary characters?

7. Enrique frequently notes Margaret's blue eyes. What do they represent to him?

8. How does her diagnosis change Margaret's relationship with her mother, if at all?

9. How does the Sabas family compare to the Cohens? Are their reactions to Margaret's illness consistent with their characters?

10. During their first few weeks together, Enrique continuously finds himself unable to consummate their relationship because he says he's "afraid." What frightens him?

11. After years of rejecting Enrique's attempts to give her a pleasing birthday gift, he finally succeeds and Margaret leaves it up to him to choose the site of her grave. What does this mean to Enrique?

12. Were you surprised by Enrique's affair with Margaret's friend, Sally? Were they really in love, or was Enrique longing for his "reckless youth," when he was seemingly free of obligations? Why doesn't he leave with Sally? And what do you think of his choice never to tell Margaret? Is total honesty good or bad for a relationship?

13. Enrique and Margaret have a close, intimate relationship, but at times their intense love for each other almost borders on hate. Discuss their connection and how they strive to make it work. Why did it take Margaret's diagnosis for Enrique to realize what she really meant to his life?

14. "He was allowed to be the free-range artist that she had adventurously married — except with her; she wanted him trussed up like a roast" (pg. 252). Was Margaret really this controlling? If so, was she aware of how her behavior affected Enrique?

15. Margaret tells her husband, "I'm not like you. It took me a while to find out. I don't need to paint to be happy. I'm happy. Here. With you" (pg. 295). What does her art mean to Margaret, and why is her work so important to Enrique?

16. "He said his paltry goodbye and she was deaf to it" (pg. 358). Why does Enrique wait so long to tell her what she's meant to him?

17. Who or what is the love of Enrique's life?

Tips to Enhance Your Book Club

1. Rafael Yglesias adapted one of his earlier novels, Fearless, into a film. After discussing A Happy Marriage, watch the movie as a group. Are there parallels between the film and A Happy Marriage?

2. A significant portion of the novel takes place in New York City's Greenwich Village during the 1970s. Since culture was so important to many of the characters, do research on what music was popular during that era, and play the songs during your meeting.

3. Like Enrique, Yglesias dropped out of high school to write his first book, Hide Fox, and All After. Read the novel and see how the teenager's work compares to the adult's.

4. To read about Rafael Yglesias's novels, movies and upcoming appearances, make sure to visit www.rafaelyglesias.com.

Read More Show Less

Customer Reviews

Average Rating 3.5
( 30 )
Rating Distribution

5 Star

(9)

4 Star

(8)

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(4)

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See All Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 30 Customer Reviews
  • Posted October 24, 2010

    Recommend - Intense, Sad but Beautiful1

    A Happy Marriage
    October 4, 2010
    Rafael Yglesias
    This book was so sad and so happy and so beautiful all at the same time. A very intense read showing the life of a marriage - its ups and downs, raising kids, jobs, friends, extended families, and illnesses and the impact that these each can have on the marriage and the people in the marriage. It will definitely make you sit back and reflect on your life and everything going on around you. Relationships make you grow up in different ways with different people. I think Rafael has shown that people change over time and depending on the person's personality they make choices that sometimes impact others negatively and other times they make choices that have a positive impact.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted July 22, 2009

    Moving, beautiful written exploration of love

    A Happy Marriage is a beautifully written story based actual events. The author, Rafael Yglesias, retells the first three weeks as a young man courting his wife, Margaret Cohen, and the last three weeks of her life. The structure of the novel enables the reader to become involved with the characters as young adults starting life and then as participants in a 30 year marriage. It is a book that will make you cry and laugh. The author is very open and honest in a way that could only have been possible because of his wife's death. He has given us a portrait of what is is to love, not in a perfect way, but in a profoud one. I recommend this book. You will be thinking about it long after you finished the last pages.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted July 16, 2009

    more from this reviewer

    A true and beautiful portrait of a marriage

    "A Happy Marriage" is one of those books that will stay with me forever. Successful marriages are fascinating and every one is different in its combination of tenderness and power. But there is something that seems to be at the heart of all of them, and I have never seen it pictured so clearly as in A Happy Marriage. It goes beyond negotiating a balance in that biological imperative of male DNA wanting multiple receptors and female DNA wanting a secure environment to raise young. What Yglesias is able to do is to highlight that still point where the individual soul's need to be really known is balanced against the anger and fear that exposure brings. Usually the center of the storm can't hold, but in a successful marriage, somehow both people are able to hang on for dear life and make it through, even if they don't know how or even why. By the time "love" as we think of it has endured 30 or more years, it becomes something else entirely, and A Happy Marriage shows in detail exactly what that is.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted April 9, 2011

    Could have been much better

    I was very excited when I started reading this book. I thought the idea behind it was a good one: what makes a marriage a marriage. I enjoyed the first part, but the second part was a total disappointment. Going back and forth between the past and present of Margaret and Enrique's life together was interesting at first, but it became very annoying in the second part when the change between past and present is done every other paragraph. Therefore, instead of building up towards the end it made the book pretty boring for the last ten chapters. Also, the excessive importance given to Enrique's erectile dysfunction was distracting and superfluous, while on the other hand little importance was given to how and why they fell in love. Half of the book is filled with repetitive and irrelevant information; there were issues discussed in the first part in detail and totally forgotten in the second, for example Bernard. It seems as though towards the end there was a rush to finish the book and deliver it to the editor, who did not perform a good job either. For short: it had everything to be a great book, but failed at it.

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  • Posted March 12, 2010

    Lasting Effect on Reader

    A Happy Marriage is a moving piece of fiction based completely on the author's life and marriage with his wife Margaret. It is the rare self-portrait that includes the good and the bad, the proud moments and the shame and regret of mistakes made in life. However, it is the most honest story I've read in a long time, refusing to gloss over the sadder or graphic details, instead reflecting back on a life well lived and a truly happy, close marriage. What makes the story so poignant and hard to put down is the vivid detail of their years together, the strengh that the author finds in himself in not only caring for his terminally ill wife but in recognizing his faults and moving on.Most people would not be able to come to terms with the honesty he shows, which will earn this book a permanent place in my library. If you want to be moved by a story, read this at once.

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted October 31, 2009

    more from this reviewer

    A good read

    I enjoyed this book in spite of the topic. While Margaret's death is sad, the format of the story was interesting. I enjoyed the back and forth from when they first meet to when Margaret is dying. While I was disappointed in Enqrique's cheating on Margaret, I was pleased that he stuck with her at the end. Good writing.

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 20, 2009

    Devastatingly beautiful

    I finished reading "A Happy Marriage" two days ago (actually, I could not put it down) and am still brought almost to tears when I think if it. It is one of the most achingly beautiful, honest and devastating pieces of literature that I have ever read. And to have this beautiful love/life story told from a very male perspective was so enlightening - causing me to look at my father's infidelities, my failed marriages, and my current relationship in a different way. A very moving story....

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 14, 2009

    Beautifully told

    Yglesias's novel is beautifully wrought, with meticulously crafted characters moving through the heartbreaking denouement of a thirty-year romance. Enrique, the protagonist, is saddled with the burden of herding his family through the final days of his wife Margaret's life. In between the episodes of final goodbyes and medical crises, the reader sees how their romance started and how it unfolded through their years of happy marriage.

    Of course, it could hardly be happy in the sense of blissfully moving from one joyous moment to the next. They have their problems, including the near dissolution of their marriage in its early years. What makes the reader cheer from the sidelines, even while it is revealed that Enrique had an affair, is the way he desperately wants to tell his wife, at the end of her life, how much he loves her, how much her very existence has made life worth living. His fear, as he coordinates a social calendar of final goodbyes for her friends and family, is that he won't have a chance to tell her. This fear is pervasive, and seeing how these final days unfold make the novel engrossing.

    Yglesias employs beautiful turns of phrase throughout the novel, putting words to feelings that many have experienced while dealing with the illness and death of a loved one. Enrique reveals how difficult it is to help other people cope emotionally, when he is trying so hard himself to do that as well: they were "demanding he put Band-Aids on their scrapes while he was bleeding to death" (88). Enrique deals with the demands of family, particularly Margaret's parents concern with funeral arrangements. In passages like this, Yglesias shines in describing Margaret's mother's need to control the arrangements, to have them just the way her family has always had them, because the need for something familiar would almost make one feel safe in the midst of the uncertainty of a life without Margaret (184).

    There are witty passages as well, like Enrique's internal debate about selecting pants to wear on his first date with Margaret (129). Enrique and Margaret are great conversational foils, never devolving into the pattern of saying the same things to each other repeatedly, nor remaining silent because, after all these years, there is nothing left to say. Their relationship is alive and vibrant, and they still can surprise each other when they open their mouths. This is something beautiful to see, and it makes the ending of the novel so hard to bear.

    The first chapter didn't draw me in to the novel the way that the second - and each subsequent chapter - did. I do not mention this as a critique, but rather so that readers know that they might not be enthralled on first meeting the characters, but it is worth hanging on for a few more pages to let this story get a running start.

    I think the great strength of this novel is the detailed expression of the emotions that swirl around the beginning and end of this marriage. These characters are vibrantly alive, and will remain lodged in my mind for some time now. It is an excellent read, even if it leaves the reader in tears.

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