Two Marriages


Publication Date: Sep 02, 2008

272 pp


List Price US $24.95
ISBN: 9781590512982

Celebrated essayist Phillip Lopate proves himself a master of the short novel form in this inspired pairing of novellas portraying two less-than-perfect unions. The Stoic’s Marriage chronicles the life of newlyweds Gordon and Rita. Well-off, idle Gordon, a lifelong student of philosophy who has always had “a stunted capacity for happiness” first meets the enchanting Rita when she comes to his home as a nurse’s aid sent to care for his dying mother. The attraction is instant and a marriage proposal ensues. Gordon turns to his diary to record his uxoriousness and to expound on the merits of Stoicism, the philosophy he’s adopted as his “substitute religion.” When Rita’s cousin from the Philippines arrives one Christmas, setting in motion an outrageous and hilarious sequence of events, both Gordon’s stoicism and marriage vows are put to the test.

Eleanor, or, The Second Marriage recounts one seemingly golden weekend in the lives of Eleanor and Frank, whose Brooklyn townhouse is a gathering place for their circle of cultured, cosmopolitan friends. It is Saturday morning, and Frank and Eleanor are planning the dinner they will host to celebrate the visit of a famous actor friend. These preparations are interrupted by the arrival of Frank’s son, a young man deeply troubled by his own aimlessness. Other guests arrive, and in the midst of great conviviality, simmering tensions erupt into raucous emotional dramas.

Elegant, concise, and comically devastating, Two Marriages illuminates the ways in which love is inseparable from deceit.

Excerpt from Two Marriages

Two Marriages is a low-key triumph, offering two kinds of comedy while at the same time painting a vivid portrait of two marriages gone wrong.” —The Boston Globe

“An urbane, sophisticated pleasure…A book that explores serious relationships—between men and women, head and heart, love and lust—with a light touch.” —Kirkus Reviews

“A pair of lively novellas…The characters seem pulled from a lifestyle issue of New York magazine…Lopate gets in some good jabs at the chattering classes.” —Publishers Weekly

1. In the introduction, Gordon informs the reader the purpose of his notebook is to record his marriage because “a good marriage…requires alertness, vigilance.” Do you agree with Gordon’s assessment of marriage? How does this idea become ironic as you read the novel?

2. Gordon’s friend Gabe says, “Stoicism doesn’t work because people can’t discipline their souls to the extent it requires.” Does Gordon ever stray from his Stoicism?

3. Gordon, describes himself as “insecure, timid…overly sensitive and quick to take offense,” while calling Rita, “radiant beautiful, kind, affectionate.” Were you skeptical about this unlikely pair from the beginning? Did you ever doubt Gordon’s romantic summation of their marriage? Find passages that foreshadow the conclusion.

4. After Rita confesses that she is still married to Hector and has three more children in the Phillipines, she continues to say she deceived Gordon for her children. Are you at all sympathetic to Rita? Can you find any redeeming qualities in her character?

5. Gordon writes in his diary that his friend Gabe “disapproves of Rita because he thinks she’s not intellectual enough for me.” Should two partners have the same interests in order for their relationship to work? Apply your thoughts to Gordon and Rita. Does the ending comment on this question?

6. Examine the subtle references to Eleanor’s and Frank’s former relationships throughout the text. How does the fact that this is a second marriage for each of them affect their relationship? What role do their past experiences play in the present?

7. Frank’s son Theo admits that he is depressed and his “mind is like noodle pudding lately.” Why can’t Theo focus? Does his depression have any relation to Frank?

8. The couple’s longtime friend E.J. observes, “So it isn’t boredom…that dries up the sexuality of married couples, it’s the panicky fear of closeness.” Examine Eleanor’s later confession of her infidelity. What is her excuse and how does it relate to E.J.’s theory?

9. The party scene exhibits a cast of memorable and quirky characters. Discuss the different dynamics between the guests. What does this event reveal about Frank and Eleanor?

10. What does Eleanor’s final dream symbolize? Do you think they will stay married?

11. Look at the references to setting in each novella. In what ways does Brooklyn shape the plot?

12. Compare the marriage of Gordon and Rita to that of Frank and Eleanor. What lessons can you draw from there marriages? Are these two parables satiric or didactic?