Wednesday, January 16, 2013
Book Review: "Love is a Canoe" by Ben Schrank
Peter Herman watched his parents' marriage disintegrate and saw how that affected his mother. As a 12-year-old, he spent a summer with his grandparents, a couple truly in love, and he shared the lessons he learned in a self-help book of sorts, Marriage is a Canoe. The book became legendary, with many people commenting how it helped them through the years, although it also became the target of many cynics.
To celebrate the book's 50th anniversary, Stella Petrovic, an ambitious young editor at Peter's publisher, decides to reignite excitement by holding a contest asking married couples in trouble to share their stories. One lucky couple will spend the weekend with Peter in the picturesque town he's lived in for years, with the hopes that he can help mend their marriage. But what Stella doesn't realize is that Peter's intentions aren't quite as clear as he pretends they are, and she also doesn't recognize the reasons for all of the pressure her boss, Helena, is putting on her to ensure the contest succeeds.
Emily Babson and Eli Correlli, the winners of the contest, are struggling with feelings of resentment, betrayal, inferiority, hurt, and, above all, the desire to keep their marriage going. Emily grew up with Marriage is a Canoe as a touchstone in her life, one of the things that helped get her through her own parents' divorce. So she sees this opportunity to meet with Peter as the magic elixir that will put her life back on the right path.
The trouble is, Peter didn't always follow the lessons of his own book. His 40-plus-year marriage to Lisa, who recently died, wasn't the storybook relationship it should have been. Now dating Maddie, a woman very much in love with Peter and who wants a life with him, Peter isn't quite sure what he wants and what to do. And he can't quite seem to shake the feeling he should have done better.
I really enjoyed this book, which looks at both self-help/motivational books and the world of publishing with a slightly skewed eye. It's a testament to the strength of Schrank's storytelling ability that I was so interested in the story and invested in its resolution despite the fact I found nearly every character in this book unlikeable. (But isn't that like life?) I loved the way he contrasted the idyllic relationship of Peter's grandparents that he outlined in his book with the cold realities of love and marriage.
This was a tremendously engaging, well-written book about relationships, about knowing, understanding, and appreciating yourself, and about the need to understand the different between reality and idealism. And you'll probably want to go canoeing afterward.