Six Novels with Lessons to Share About Marriage

Six Novels with Lessons to Share About Marriage

How do you save a marriage? This is the question Cass and Jonathan Coyne must answer in Elyssa Friedland’s The Intermission. The novel follows the couple as they decide to take a six-month break from each other. To celebrate the book’s publication, Friedland put together an exclusive list of her personal favorite novels about love and marriage.

Let’s face it: We all want to know what goes on behind closed doors, especially when it comes to other people’s marriages. You know those couples that seem perfect but then all of a sudden they drop a divorce bomb? Or those husbands and wives who bicker constantly but deep down you suspect they are crazy about each other? Marriage is an inherently fascinating topic. Two people—with wholly unique DNA, backgrounds, points of view, childhoods, and families—decide to make a life together. How could that not engender the most interesting discussions about compatibility, whether opposites attract, and what ingredients are essential for a lasting marriage… not to mention the sex part!

My forthcoming novel, The Intermission, tells the story of Cass and Jonathan Coyne. They are a young couple, about to start a family, who seem to have it all. But do they? You’ll have to read to find out why they decide to take a six-month separation from their marriage. (An intermission, if you will.) I’ve been inspired and excited by other books that tackle the never-ending subject of marriage and have chosen a few of my favorites below.

Between Me and You by Allison Winn Scotch

You enter a marriage with certain expectations. Maybe one spouse has the looks and the other is the personality. Or one spouse is the breadwinner while the other pursues less remunerative work. The point is, a couple typically enters into marriage with a vision of how things will play out. But what happens when the tables turn? Allison Winn Scotch considers this issue expertly in her page-turning and time traveling novel, Between Me and You. Told in reverse order and from alternating perspectives, the novel follows Ben, a screenwriter, and Tatum, an actress, as their careers shift and their love evolves. It’s a perfect summer read.

The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo by Taylor Jenkins Reid

Why read about one failed marriage when can you read about seven? In this glamorous, enticing novel about a Hollywood starlet who managed to have seven husbands in her lifetime, we see many of the reasons why people get married: escape, money, fame, attraction, companionship, and more, and also consider many of the reasons why a marriage can dissolve. Passions fade, lies surface, and tragedy strikes in this unputdownable book that gives an insider’s look into old-world Hollywood and offers a compelling view into eight fascinating relationships. Yes, I said eight. You’ll just have to read it to find out.

Us by David Nicholls

In Us, by the acclaimed David Nicholls, the husband and wife are at a more mature stage of life than my married pair in The Intermission. Douglas and Connie’s only child, Albie, is leaving for college. On the cusp of Albie’s departure from home Connie tells David she wants a divorce. The big problem is that they have a European tour planned for the three of them over the summer before Albie leaves the nest. Connie feels bad canceling; Douglas thinks the trip could save their marriage. And their teenage son is stuck with them on the adventure—until he’s not, and even more drama unfolds. This is a deeply moving, wanderlust book, that closely examines a three-decades-old marriage.

The Vacationers by Emma Straub

Warning: If you read this book, you may not be dying to get married, but you will desperately be packing your bags for Mallorca. That is the setting of Emma Straub’s debut novel, which places a family and their close friends in a sun-drenched setting so evocative you can practically taste the tapas and smell the suntan lotion. The idyllic backdrop is a perfect contrast to the secrets and tension between the family members, particularly Franny and Jim Post, who are commemorating their thirty-fifth wedding anniversary—although they have a rather good reason to temper the celebration. Featuring a fabulous ensemble cast, the book is equally seductive in its descriptions of food, weather, and place as it is in what it reveals about the nature of marriage.

Other People’s Houses by Abbi Waxman

The title of this book says it all, as does the genius cover illustration showing a roof lifted off a tidy suburban home. Set in a Los Angeles suburb, the book weaves together the marital sagas of four different families living on the same block. Propelled forward by one cataclysmic affair, the novel expertly reveals that behind every picket fence lies a unique and sometimes dark story. Some of the troubles are of the more mundane sort—boredom from sex with the same partner and exhaustion from raising children—but others are deeper: One spouse wants to expand the family and the other doesn’t; another is secretly suffering from a terrible illness. Humorous, snarky, but full of soul, there is something entirely relatable about this book.

Fates and Furies by Lauren Groff

There are two sides to every story. Nowhere is that more evident than in a complex marriage. Lauren Groff expertly engages with that reality in her beautifully-written, literary saga Fates and Furies. She details, in gorgeous, lyrical prose, a twenty-four year marriage between the at turns brilliant, artistic and pained Lotto and Mathilde. They both have secrets, their balance of power shifts on tectonic plates, and the book delivers one big whopper of a surprise at the end that I didn’t see coming. This is not a light or short read but a worthwhile one for sure.

Elyssa Friedland is a graduate of Yale University and Columbia Law School and lives with her husband and three children in New York City. The Intermission is her second novel.

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