A collective of bibliophiles talking about books. Book Fox (vulpes libris): small bibliovorous mammal of overactive imagination and uncommonly large bookshop expenses. Habitat: anywhere the rustle of pages can be heard.
Dan Savage’s mother wants him to get married. His boyfriend, Terry, says “no thanks” because he doesn’t want to act like a straight person. Their six-year-old son, D.J., says his two dads aren’t “allowed” to get married, but that he’d like to come to the reception and eat cake. Throw into the mix Dan’s straight siblings, whose varied choices form a microcosm of how Americans are approaching marriage these days, and you get a rollicking family memoir that will have everyone – gay or straight, right or left, single or married – howling with laughter and rethinking their notions of marriage and all it entails.
This review is probably going to be rather more personal than is customary so at least you’re warned, but the circumstances surrounding this decision are explained below. I bought this book as I’m a great supporter of gay marriage, and indeed any marriage, and had no idea that Dan Savage is famous in the US for his sex and modern love column, Savage Love. Well, there you go, my ignorance of popular culture is in any case well-documented elsewhere. The book arrived just when I was about to go down with one of my regular (but thankfully, due to the wonderful invention of medicine, these days not so frequent) week-long bouts of catarrh-packed viruses and so I found the book on the coffee-table at about 1.30am on my second sleepless night in a row when I was trying desperately not to be ill and was equally desperate for something to distract me. This was particularly important as it was during the days in our temporary flat where (God preserve us!) we didn’t have television so distractions were few and far between …
And I must say it did the trick perfectly. Savage is a charming, witty and occasionally lyrical companion, and even more so during a night when I definitely needed company that didn’t require conversation.
His story takes us through from the very first time that marriage to his boyfriend, the long-suffering and astute Terry, is mentioned right until the moment, or series of moments, when the commitment actually takes place. Savage describes relationships with family members very well and with an attractive lightness of touch and the book is, partly due to these qualities, eminently readable. He is, above all, a first-class raconteur – which is a far rarer gift than you might think. I’ve known only three genuine ranconteurs in my life, and count Savage as one of them. In case you’re interested the first is a former colleague of mature years and the second is the current Dean of Guildford. Just thought a spot of name-dropping wouldn’t come amiss at this point …
Part of the enjoyment of this book – apart from the always gripping (at least I always find them gripping) story of a personal journey towards marriage – are the portraits of people Savage knows and loves well. I particularly enjoyed hearing about his mother, a woman who regularly sends her son newspaper clippings of things she’d like him to do or attributes she’d like him to acquire. I fear if I told my own mother this, she might take up the new idea with rather too much enthusiasm than I would like so I am (for once) keeping womanfully quiet. Mind you, I did laugh when Savage started playing Mrs Savage Senior at her own game and sending back more newspaper cuttings telling the opposite story. Touché indeed. Not, to my knowledge, that daring to answer back has ever swayed any mother’s deep-seated opinion of her offspring, alas.
I also liked Savage’s boyfriend’s clever way of handling him when the author steps out of line (well, someone has to control these artistic types, or who knows where they’d end up). Here’s Terry putting Savage in his place, when Savage stupidly accuses him of golddigging because of a throw-away comment:
We were at the pool and Terry had been swimming laps. He gave me a long, sad look, then got up and walked to the bar at the other end of the patio. He was only wearing a Speedo, and all eyes, including mine, followed him as he walked to the bar. There was a large group of gay men at the far end of the patio, talking, smoking, and tanning, and they went silent as Terry approached. After he passed them, one of the men in the group got up and followed Terry to the bar to introduce himself, then offered to buy Terry a drink. Terry smiled and gestured toward me. After he passed by the group of gay men on his way back, another one of the men put his hand over his heart and pretended to have a heart attack.
When Terry returned to me, he sat down on the chaise lounge next to mine and handed me a beer.
“If I were a golddigger, honey,” he said slowly, tilting his head toward the gay men at the other end of the patio, “I could get a guy with a lot more gold.”
Well said, sir! Savage also tackles the issue of religion and the place of gay and lesbian people within it, which I found very interesting. As a Christian who sighs and raises her eyes heavenwards whenever I hear of the following happening (though I do admit I myself occasionally indulged in my thankfully long-forgotten evangelical days), I couldn’t help chuckle here:
When a Christian is in trouble, he’ll often pick up a Bible and start flipping round. If he finds a passage or a psalm or a parable that speaks to his predicament, he’ll take it as a sign from God. Of course, if the Christian picked up some other book – “The Origin of Species”, for instance … he might chance upon a passage that might seem equally relevant, but he would never take that as a sign that Darwin was right about evolution …
Darnit – I’ve always been a great believer in Darwin myself – after all every artist retouches and every writer edits, so why shouldn’t God do a little DIY improvements over the aeons? Still, it does make me rather sad that The Complete Works of Oscar Wilde might not be the model for life I’ve always, since my teenage years, thought it to be. Ah well. Another icon fallen.
Joking apart, Savage does have a sensible approach to religion, gay politics, and gay marriage, with which, for the most part, I can only agree. However, I must admit that my inner prude (Gawd bless ’er) did throw up her hands in horror when she realised that Mr Savage and his Loved One had been known to indulge in a threesome now and again. I’m sorry, my dears, but here in rural England we surely have enough difficulty letting one other person view our essential bits and pieces, let alone two, but perhaps our American town-dwelling cousins are more adventurous in sexual mores than are we … in any case, I did perhaps surprisingly feel Savage rather let me down here. Yes, I do write threesomes occasionally myself, but it’s the stuff of fantasy rather than reality, and my marriage vows are ones I’m more than happy to subscribe to in my own love life. Whether this makes me a hypocrite or a square, I can’t really tell. Possibly both, but I feel that is a fact we will all simply have to live with.
Anyway, all in all, this is a fascinating, amusing and sometimes even moving read. I would have happily read it whilst in the best of health, and very much enjoyed it, however, when I wasn’t. So, occasional moral niggles apart, I’d like to say thank you, Dan, for making me feel not quite so alone during a very tricky night. You were marvellous company.
The Commitment, Plume Press, 2006 ISBN: 978 0 452 28763 1
[Anne is a great fan of marriage, but less so of family, which probably explains her stalwart dedication to maintaining a child-free zone at home. She always admires a good raconteur when she finds one, however.]