Desert Isle Keeper
Told with Kinsella’s signature wit, Surprise Me is a cautionary tale of how, with the best of intentions, you can easily ruin the best thing in your life. In other words, if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.
Marriage is a fragile relationship. It’s a living bond, not an institution, and subject to the ebbs and flows of life. The partners in the alliance have to be ever cognizant of their decisions and the long-term effects of those decisions at every crossroads in their lives. Are they enhancing their situation or are they destroying it? Are they sacrificing their future for a short-term gain?
Sylvie and Dan have been together for ten years, most of them in marriage and some of them as partners. They have five-year-old twins, a comfortable home, fulfilling jobs, and the uncanny ability of knowing exactly what the other is thinking and doing and of finishing each other’s sentences to the point of having nonsensical conversations in shorthand.
To celebrate their tenth anniversary of togetherness, they have lunch at their favorite restaurant, where over the course of the meal they reaffirm their connection to each other, their love for each other, and that their marriage is on firm, secure ground. After lunch, they head over to their back-to-back appointments for physicals with their family physician, who congratulates them on their healthy bodies and healthy family tree. They enjoy hearing this, till he announces that they are sure to enjoy long lives and sixty-eight years of married bliss.
And their smiles just freeze. Sixty-eight long years suddenly sound daunting and feel like a life sentence. While Sylvie and Dan are confident in their love for each other and they’re not remotely considering divorce, “forever” feels a lot longer than they’d bargained for. They had felt like they were running small local races but now find themselves in an ultra-marathon.
What will they look like in forty years, much less sixty-eight? How will they sustain the excitement through eleven thousand sexual encounters with the same person? When will they stop being attractive to one another? Lose the spark of joy? Become cohabiting ships passing in the night?
These thoughts start their crazy ideas to re-jig their life and make it more exciting. But as one person brings up an idea, the other shoots it down. And thus, they begin going down the path of disappointment and disillusion, hesitant and frustrated with each other. Each one feels the other lacks the right sentiments and attitudes, is interested only in the humdrum, and uninterested in keeping their marriage vibrant. They each wonder how they’re going to fill the endless, soulless years of mindless drone work.
They’re going around in an ever-darkening spiral, until one day, they realize that they both love each other and want a happy marriage. They just don’t want to be bored together. So what are they to do?
Then Sylvie has a brain wave. “Surprise me!” she demands of Dan, little realizing that the pressure to continually surprise the other person is going to lead to the unraveling of their marriage.
I can say for sure that I did not like the protagonists. I found them shallow and unappreciative of each other and the people around them. They make calamities out of the commonplace and then flounder around trying to find a way out of the difficulties they have visited upon themselves. Yet despite this, I enjoyed the book; I don’t have to like the protagonists in a novel to find the story worth reading.
There’s dialogue in this book that made me gasp with laughter, and then there’s dialogue that brought tears to my eyes. This story has so many facets, all of which go into the exploration of marriage and what it means when two people are willing to become vulnerable to each other, and in that vulnerability, make a vow to be together forever. The humor, like the pathos, in this book can be uncomfortable, because it comes so close to reality, and the central couple’s defenselessness against their emotions evokes a sense of pity and recognition. We’ve all been there where we try to enhance that which doesn’t need enhancement and modify that which doesn’t need modification and then get entangled in the web we’ve woven. And yet, these hapless people do manage to overcome their natures and work in concert to patch up their missteps for the greater good of their marriage. What, after all, is a better testament to their wedding vows: …to have and to hold, from this day forward, for better, for worse…