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November 21, 2010

Viorst-a-thon completed

My week of Judith Viorst was radically different from what I’d expected. Sadly, her novel Murdering Mr. Monti was kind of dreadful– it turns out that Viorst can do wrong. Reading it was not entirely a lost cause, however, because it was a book by Judith Viorst and her main character was a version of herself, but the novel was trying to fit in too many plots and the whole thing fell apart (or maybe it didn’t? I skimmed the end. I’ll never know).

However it was fascinating to read the novel after reading her book Grown-Up Marriage: What We Know, Wish We Had Known, and Still Need to Know About Being Married. I really hadn’t supposed that a non-fiction book about marriage would the highlight of my Viorst-a-thon, and never realized I’d find a marriage guide so useful. I rolled my eyes through the chapter about couples who had second thoughts at the altar, who’d never talked about having kids until after they were hitched, who didn’t actually love their spouse but thought it was something they could work through… But then I got to the chapter about extended family and in-laws, and how to fit these relationships into our lives. Viorst writes of the necessity of married people separating themselves from their families of origin, but also how intergenerational ties are the foundations of and entire point of our marriages. How we all need to be grown-ups in order to have these relationships work. Then I read the chapter on how children affect marriages, and it underlined that Judith Viorst knows everything (except maybe, in her exuberance, how to structure a novel).

The marriage book is structured around Viorst’s poetry from her “decades” collections, and the novel plays with these same ideas about family and relationships,  its narrator a nationally syndicated columnist who writes with the authority Viorst assumes in her self-help books. That the narrator is a version of Viorst is underlined by reading her memoir Alexander and the Wonderful, Marvelous, Excellent, Terrific Ninety Days: An Almost Completely Honest Account of What Happened to Our Family When Our Youngest came to Live with Us for Three Months. Viorst is the control freak she satirizes in her novel, and coping with the chaos of her son’s return how with his wife and three children is a lovely little book with plenty of reflections on the delights of grandparenting, the trials of adult parenting, and the frustrations of parenting full-stop. I particularly liked her chapter on the nonsense of modern parenthood, which includes not letting children cry, complicated car-seat straps, and getting rid of playpens (and of this point she throws her fist at the sky and demands of the universe, “Why, god, why?”).

In her poetry, her fiction, non-fiction and picture books, Judith Viorst is a chronicler of the foible. She sees the humour and tenderness of people at their worst, in their no-good, very bad days, the kind of days everyone has (even in Australia).

2 thoughts on “Viorst-a-thon completed”

  1. Rebecca says:

    For no clear reason, I read *How Did I Get to Be 40 and Other Atrocities* when I was 12 and thought it excellent. I still have it and am saving it for when I actually turn 40, to see if it stands up.

    I thought *Murdering Mr. Monti* was pretty good, too, but wasn’t much other than 12 when I read that one, so not the most astute reader.

    1. Kerry says:

      I love Its Hard to be Hip Over Thirty. Looking forward to the next decade. And I’m so excited that you’ve read Murdering Mr. Monti– another reason why we’re friends.

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