The Man I Should Have Married
The Man I Should Have Married is not a classic romance, but is instead a chick-lit type journey of self-discovery told in the first-person. Even though it has a love story at its backbone, the book is really about one woman¹s reclamation of the woman she used to be, while finding the strength to move forward with hope. It¹s an exhilarating, funny, sad, poignant story about how to live with the choices you make, how you recognize/deal with the consequences of your actions, and how it’s never really too late to step up to the plate and take a second or third chance at what you really want. This book may not be completely original in its themes, but the characters are winning and reading it made me feel good, almost inspired.
Kennedy Smith is a thirty-something suburban New Jersey mother of two girls whose lawyer husband Frank abruptly left her after ten years of marriage. Confused, hurt, angry, and somewhat lost, Kennedy spends an afternoon wandering the streets of New York’s Lower East Side, revisiting her old haunts and thinking about the bold, fearless girl she used to be. She wonders what happened to her and why she feels so frozen now.
In the course of her wandering, she goes to McGlynn’s, the Irish pub where she worked for years. The pub is owned by one Declan McGlynn, a handsome Irishman with a gift of gab and a careless magnetism that has drawn many women. Declan and Kennedy were friends and co-workers for years, until they spent one passionate night together. Shortly afterward, for many reasons, Kennedy married Frank and, until now, she had never spoke to Declan again. They resume their friendship and affair, but to what end? It takes them a number of stops and starts to figure it out, and they take the reader on the confusing, sometimes joyous, sometimes painful trip with them.
Kennedy is a strong character. Far from perfect, smart but occasionally dense, always fighting to be hipper than she really is, she inhabits her space better than she thinks she does, and watching her come to a realization of her own power is rewarding. Besides Frank and Declan, another man in her past – Marco, the father of her oldest daughter – has come back into her life. All three men intersect with her life in a time when she feels least able to cope with one man, let alone three.
The drama that ensues is not madcap (a la Bridget Jones), but is instead real life stuff caught on paper. The raw, defensive anger of Kennedy’s 15-year-old daughter Maya when she rejects Frank and insists on finding her “real father, the mortified embarrassment Kennedy feels when she and Declan are caught naked in the living room by Maya and her boyfriend (who aren’t supposed to be there), the uncertainty and vulnerability Kennedy feels when making big decisions about the future without Frank these are serious matters and they’re treated as such. I liked that the author respects our intelligence and didn’t make a farce out of this book. The events rang true to me.
Declan’s got his own issues, not the least of which is Kennedy’s distrust (she views him as a playboy a rep that never really seems to match the character we get to know) and their incredibly bad timing as a couple. Nothing ever seems to go right for these two, but I never stopped rooting for them. I have a personal soft spot for Irishmen, so I’d have probably rooted for Declan anyway, but these characters are well-matched. I got a little frustrated with each of them at times, thinking they were skirting Big Misunderstanding territory and if they just communicated better things would work out fine. They redeemed themselves believably, however, so I forgave them their occasional immaturity. It happens to the best of us.
One of my quibbles with this book is the fact that Declan’s role is smaller than I liked. I would have enjoyed a few more scenes of Kennedy and Declan together, but not in bed, to cement the image I had of them as good friends who had lost touch and were reconnecting. It may be the romance reader in me trying to make more of a traditional romance out of a novel that is more about a woman’s journey to herself than it is about romance, but I missed him when he wasn’t around for a while.
I enjoyed the secondary cast of characters; their interactions helped to shed light on Kennedy’s character and solidified the various options and opinions she was facing, since you are privy to only her thoughts throughout. There are no villains in this book, not even the lawyer husband who has a mid-life crisis and decides to chuck his legal career and his family to become a yoga instructor with a pretty young girlfriend. He could have been a caricature, and while Kennedy definitely has her Frank-bashing moments (as any woman reasonably might in those circumstances), the relationship is not vicious, nor even particularly hostile. It is instead angry and defensive and hurt, which makes complete sense. By using nuance to carve out her characters instead of stereotypical bold lines, Redmond Satran creates a cast of people like some we might know, and makes the novel stronger than it might otherwise have been.
The Man I Should Have Married is not strictly a romance and it deals with many difficult themes about which people will have their own views (ie. divorce, single-motherhood, casual sex), but ultimately I think most readers would enjoy going along for the ride with Kennedy, Declan, the children and the assorted cast of surrounding characters. I believed in them, rooted for them, and was pleased with their journey. I¹m looking forward to reading Redmond Satran’s next novel.