Tim Covell's Reviews > This Matter of Marriage

This Matter of Marriage by Debbie Macomber
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really liked it

I'm not sure if I'm becoming a more discerning reader in my old age, or if it's because I read this while feeling guilty about spending an entire evening reading when I should have been writing, but throughout this story I was admiring the craft as much as the story itself. I don't see that as a sign of weakness in the story. I can see a painting and admire the work that created the image as much as the image itself, or watch a movie car chase, and admire the stunt drivers' skills without forgetting the narrative reason (however skimpy) for the chase.

Hallie and Steve run small businesses, a common trait of romance leads. Thirty and thirty-five, respectively, they've had time to get their businesses up and running, have some life experiences, and are financially comfortable. They are the type of romance leads I like - mature, independent, and not in need of a relationship.

Steve's wife left him last year, and he still wants her back, but she's started dating someone else. I appreciated how the separation was portrayed. Steve and his wife have complex feelings about it and each other, and while she initiated the split, part of his character growth is acknowledging his part in the marriage breakdown and coming to terms with the separation. There are two kids, 9 and 11, and they live with their mother, but spend most weekends with Steve.

Hallie's father died last year, her sister married and had a child, and Hallie decides it's time to lose ten pounds, pay off her credit cards, and get married. She's casually dated, but now she wants (not needs) a partner. A hot guy moves in next door, and he has two charming kids, but he's too blue collar for her and still pining for his ex-wife. He's definitely not husband material, but quickly becomes a friend. A solid setup for a friends to lovers story. We have proximity, and slightly needy kids to reinforce that.

Hallie goes on a couple of disastrous but funny dates, which end up involving Steve. Then she joins a dating service. It was at this point that I checked the copyright date. The book is twenty years old, but non-online dating, and a reference to Fred Flintstone's bowling technique, are the only elements which might confuse younger readers. Another disastrous date follows, and again Steve is involved. Macomber repeatedly brings Hallie and Steve together as friends, for various reasons and in various contexts, and their bond grows largely because it is free of any relationship pressure. The children are too good (and narratively convenient) to be true, but I was able to forgive that.

Hallie's best friend is also hunting for a husband, and having better luck. Her dating provides contrast to Hallie's, becomes important to Steve and Hallie's relationship, and helps keep the tone of the book light despite Hallie's bad dates. Hallie can talk to Steve about her friend, and to her friend about Steve. The friend's relationship also adds sexuality to the story, which contributes to the growing (and long-simmering) sexual tension in the primary relationship as a plot point and as context.

Hallie's character growth includes some decisions that make her a more old-fashioned wife and mother (even for a 1990s book). I have mixed feelings about this. It's easy to say that one should never compromise in a relationship, and never take on traditional roles, but compromise in a relationship is not necessarily a bad thing, and Hallie is learning this. And the plot and characterizations support her decisions. Her desire to lose weight, for example, is a traditional and potentially sexist issue, and yet while it repeatedly comes up in the plot, it's usually for humour, and not a factor in the relationship. If I worry about it being oppressive, instead of laughing over her buying the entire stock of an ice-cream store's double-fudge macadamia nut ice cream following a break-up (my first reaction), then perhaps I am over-thinking things.

My appreciation for the craft of this book extends to how deftly Macomber handles minor items like character descriptions, locations, and foreshadowing. I was particularly impressed by a break in the narrative flow - just one sentence out of sequence - that set up a kiss. As for the black moment, it's predictable from the premise, but presented in a satisfying fashion.

This story is balanced on the funny side of realistic, and simple yet portraying many complexities of modern relationships. An enjoyable and well-constructed read.
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Reading Progress

March 29, 2019 – Shelved
March 29, 2019 – Shelved as: tbr
Started Reading
April 1, 2019 – Finished Reading

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