Lisa Louie's Reviews > Portrait of a Marriage

Portrait of a Marriage by Pearl S. Buck
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Jul 22, 2009

it was ok
Read in April, 2009

I found a battered copy of this book in musty corner of a used bookstore in Mexico City, and saucily purchased it after reading the cover jacket quotation from the book, something about the husband gasping in horror at the specter of his wife holding a whip in his hand. This, although I knew that since it was Pearl Buck, there wouldn't be anything truly salacious or gratuitous about it. In truth, I've always been curious to discover which elements make a novel timeless and which consign them to the 50 cents bin. Reading this book gave me some insight.

Buck's Portrait of a Marriage is the unbelievable tale of how a high-born New York artist as a young man falls in love with a simple farmer's daughter from rural Pennsylvania, and they get married. In other words, this novel is essentially the daydream of someone who wants to believe that love can overcome class differences. But instead of the poor lover moving up to the wealthy and affluent world of the rich lover, in this novel, the rich lover moves to the country and lives the country artist life while his wife does all the child-rearing and farming. We are made to understand that the couple has a healthy sex life though, and this, fed by the artist's patronizing admiration for his wife's simple-mindedness and stout healthy body, is what keeps them together. I believe that love can overcome class differences, but this isn't the novel that truthfully and courageously explores how.

The novel's language is stale, its ideas are bound to the moment in which they had currency, and their realization in the narrative itself is difficult, if not impossible to believe.
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