Sunday, March 19, 2017

Book Review: "The Marriage Pact" by Michelle Richmond

Is there a secret to a long and happy marriage? Is there one thing, a group of behaviors or conditions, which could ensure that a couple can weather the stresses and strains most marriages encounter and stay married until death do them part?

If you ask Jake and Alice whether they wanted their marriage to last, and believed it could, they'd say yes, although perhaps somewhat dubiously. While Jake, a successful therapist, grew up in a home where his parents' relationship was strong (and is still going), Alice, a singer-turned-lawyer, had a fractured home life, with a family whose demons ate them alive. While Jake saw proposing marriage as a way to hold on to Alice, she saw it as an opportunity for the security she never experienced.

Right before their wedding, Alice works on a case involving a somewhat-famous musician named Finnegan. In the flush of pride at the case's successful outcome, and the anticipation of her wedding, somehow Alice invites Finnegan and his wife to her and Jake's wedding. Surprisingly, he accepts, and the couple is a sweet addition to what turns out to be a beautiful day.

Finnegan's wedding present leads Jake and Alice to an organization called The Pact. The Pact has one simple goal: to ensure marriages succeed. Supportive of that goal, Jake and Alice agree to join. While at first they are dazzled by the parties that their fellow members through, and the fellowship of the group, it's not long before they realize that while some of The Pact's rules—you must give your spouse gifts for no reason a certain amount of times each year, you must plan a non-work-related vacation for just the two of you once a quarter, always answer the phone when your spouse calls—seem innocuous, no infraction of any rule is tolerated.

As Alice's work schedule heats up and she must spend more time at the office, she quickly runs afoul of The Pact's rules. When one minor infraction leads to another, she and Jake realize that this group isn't quite what they imagined it was. And when Jake learns from an old acquaintance some of the measures The Pact uses to ensure marriages succeed, he knows that they need to break their commitment to the group. But The Pact never leaves you, and you never leave The Pact...

I found this concept really intriguing at first, and Michelle Richmond's writing, which I so enjoyed in her previous book, Golden State (see my original review), definitely kept me turning the pages. But the further I got into the book, the more I didn't like it. I just found the whole concept of The Pact and its means to an end utterly preposterous, and I found it really hard to believe that a lawyer and a therapist would so willingly allow themselves to be controlled by a group like this.

Reading The Marriage Pact reminded me a little of reading some of Stephen King's books in the late 1980s through the mid-1990s. Not that there were elements of horror in the book, but that I felt Richmond, like King, had such a brilliant ideas for a book and then little by little, it went more and more off the rails until it was just completely out of control. And while I can handle that in certain books, because of the way this book was rooted in such a solid concept like marriage, suspending my disbelief so completely just didn't work.

I may wind up in the minority here, so if the plot as I've described it intrigues you, definitely give it a shot. I'll still be waiting for Richmond's next book to come along. And perhaps I'll pick up a few rules from The Pact, at least as suggestions...

NetGalley and Random House Publishing Group—Ballantine provided me an advance copy of the book in exchange for an unbiased review. Thanks for making this available!

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