Sanctimonious readers need not apply for this reading assignment

It’s a catch-22 to write a revealing memoir. If the author is not authentic, it’s not as good a book and the reviews can be bad. Authenticity requires an author to admit mistakes, embarrassing acts and contrary emotions. Why? Because we humans make mistakes, behave in embarrassing ways and often feel contradictory emotions. It’s called the human condition.

But being authentic (and writing a better book) opens you up to all kinds of admonitions. Judgy readers tend to review the author’s life choice instead of the book: I didn’t like her so I didn’t like her book.

Sure, in hindsight, that mistaken/embarrassing/mixed up behavior was stupid. But at the time, it made all kinds of sense. Could you bear with me while I tell you the story of why? Isn’t that the whole point of a memoir?

This is why I loved Wendy Plump’s Vow: A Memoir of Marriage (and Other Affairs), and why I feel empathy for her as she endures those inevitable 1-star reviews.

VowVow is a great memoir. Revealing. Authentic. Filled with regret and justification, but real. It’s a very personal book about her own affairs, her husband’s affairs and, in an illuminating manner for us observers, marital affairs in general. Plumb encourages her readers to think about their own monogamy — or lack thereof — in a thoughtful way. Here are a couple of pieces of her advice that I found useful:

  • “What I think I should have been told — what I think any adulterer should be told — is this: If your needs weren’t being met, you ought to have communicated them. If the spark was gone and this bugs you, find it again or get out. Is sex ever really boring, really?”
  • “I used to think marriage was based on passion and love. Now I see that it’s based mostly on loyalty. Loyalty and warmth.”

Also, Plump devotes a bit to the difference between faithfulness and monogamy. Think they’re the same? Plump makes a compelling argument otherwise. The fair minded will also appreciate how she gets into the head of the other woman, having been one herself. She’s amazingly even handed.

Plus, Plump’s writing is descriptive and fresh, with lines like this one: “His cheekbones were wide as a wingspan and his eyes as blue as an acetylene torch.” Do you know what color his eyes were? I do. But as an author in love with metaphor, I never would have thought to compare eyes to a flame. Perfect.

If you’re a judgy sort of person who has never violated her vows, you probably won’t like this memoir (or mine for that matter). But if you’re willing to get into the head of someone who couldn’t remain monogamous and try to understand why, you’ll love this book.