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Review: A wise, witty memoir on ‘divine tedium’ of marriage

Review: A wise, witty memoir on 'divine tedium' of marriage
Heather Havrilesky is an essayist and former TV critic who has written the “Ask Polly” advice column since 2012

“Foreverland,” by Heather Havrilesky (Ecco)

Dear AP book reviewer:

I thought I was doing OK with the pandemic, but the recent surge of COVID-19 cases has really got me down. Can you recommend a book to make me laugh? A Depressed Reader.

Dear Depressed Reader:

Have I got a book for you! Heather Havrilesky’s new memoir, “Foreverland: On the Divine Tedium of Marriage,” is a wise, witty, profane, even profound, meditation on her 15-year marriage to a college professor, Bill who emailed her a fan letter when he read on her blog that she was newly single.

It is also about trying to raise two kids while holding down a full-time job as a TV critic; living in a hipster neighborhood in L.A., then moving to a deeply uncool suburb; toying for longer than feels necessary or comfortable with the idea of cheating on her husband; finding out she has breast cancer — but just a tiny bit of it; and finally, realizing that she and Bill are on the greatest adventure of their lives and will almost certainly be on it until one of them dies. In which case, she notes wryly, the marriage will have been a success.

“Every book about marriage is also a book about mortality, since the success of any marriage is defined not by happiness or good fortune but by death,” she writes in the first chapter. “The assignment, after all, is to stay together until you die. Once one spouse perishes, the marriage has succeeded. Death signals victory.”

Havrilesky has been doling out such acerbic advice online since the dawn of the internet, first on The Rabbit Blog, then in the Ask Polly column, which started on The Awl, migrated to New York magazine and can now be found on Substack. Like all the agony aunts and uncles who preceded her, from Cheryl Strayed and Dear Abby to Miss Manners and Benjamin Franklin Havrilesky offers up common-sense advice grounded on the principle of being true to yourself but not too much of a jerk.

She has also written three books, including a memoir of growing up in the ’70s; an anthology of advice columns; and a collection of essays. The essay form suits her. Sometimes in this latest book her writing bogs down or turns purple when she tries to link one chapter to the next to propel the story forward. She needn’t have worried. Her voice is so engaging, and her comic timing so impeccable, that she turns the “divine tedium” of her marriage into a rollicking adventure for her readers, too.