Cyndy Aleo's Reviews > Two-Part Invention: The Story of a Marriage

Two-Part Invention by Madeleine L'Engle
Rate this book
Clear rating

's review
May 21, 2011

it was amazing
bookshelves: non-fiction

While I can't name a favorite band or composer or movie, I've never had a problem naming my favorite author: Madeleine L'Engle. With the exception of out-of-print titles I've never been able to track down, I've read most of her work, from poetry to short stories to children's books to her journals. One of my favorites, however, is Two Part Invention: The Story of a Marriage, L'Engle's part journal, part tribute to her husband.

::: Parallels :::

Two Part Invention: The Story of a Marriage appears to be written over the course of a summer, a summer in which L'Engle is slowly but surely losing her husband unexpectedly to bladder cancer. As L'Engle works her way through the summer, and each stage her husband's illness moves through, she is brought back to points in her own life and relationships, meditating as much on what is past as what is present.

L'Engle's own life was rich for fiction mining, and any devoted reader will be delighted at the insights they are given into how much of herself she put into her characters. Like Meg from the Time books, L'Engle herself had "hair-colored hair" and was extremely nearsighted. She shares that when she was dating her husband, she refused to wear her glasses so he wouldn't see her in them, and on a movie date, she was unable to even see the movie. Like Philippa Hunter in And Both Were Young, she had a very unconventional childhood, raised by parents who were very focused on the arts, and she spent her youth in boarding schools. Like Katharine Forrester of The Small Rain and A Severed Wasp, L'Engle played piano several hours a day (though she wasn't a performer), had problems with birthing her children that were nearly fatal, and she lived in a cherished apartment on Tenth Street in New York City. Best of all, the devoted reader will learn that Canon Tallis, who appears is so many of L'Engle's books, was a real person.

::: An Ideal, Not Perfect, Marriage :::

L'Engle was married to actor Hugh Franklin, a successful stage actor who is probably best known for his role as Dr. Tyler on the soap opera All My Children. Their social circle included a close friendship with Walter and Jean Kerr (the famous critic and author, respectively) and other famous people, but L'Engle never sounds as if she is name-dropping, or makes the reader feel that he or she should be impressed by who they knew. Famous people are people like anyone else, and have their own joys and heartaches, and L'Engle conveys a true sense of gratitude that she has been surrounded by such talented and creative people, focusing more on the gifts of friendship rather than the so-called glory of fame.

The real heart of Two-Part Invention: The Story of a Marriage, however, is her relationship with Franklin. She looks at her forty years of marriage with a great sense of accomplishment, and while her memories of the past may seem to focus on the "better" described in so many marriage vows, the suffering she describes when a spouse and soulmate is terminally ill can definitely be said to be the "worse." L'Engle is very much human in her anger and frustration at her husband's continuing deterioration, and it is amazing to see the process through which she works through all her emotions to get to the point where she can truly pray for what is best for her husband, rather than pray for what she wants, which is obviously a cure.

One of the most amazing things to me has been the repeated claim that L'Engle must be anti-Christian because of some of the themes she has written about, especially in the Time books. Without bonking the reader over the head with a Bible, L'Engle conveys the same strong faith that I have always found laced through her books, while still allowing herself to question that faith. She is never preachy, but rather shows how her faith is woven seamlessly into her life.

There is a Conrad Aiken quote repeated in the book; it makes its first appearance when Franklin uses it as part of his proposal to L'Engle, and she shares it again when the book reaches the end of his life:

Music I heard with you was more than music,
and bread I broke with you was more than bread.

There is no doubt that L'Engle's life was enriched by her marriage to Franklin, and reading Two-Part Invention: The Story of a Marriage allows the reader to feel that she has been given a great treasure in sharing even a piece of what they had together.

This review previously published at Epinions:

Sign into Goodreads to see if any of your friends have read Two-Part Invention.
Sign In »

No comments have been added yet.