Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Book Review: The Accidental Marriage by Annette Haws

When I read The Accidental Marriage by Annette Haws, a funny moment from the past came to mind:

When I was a newlywed, my neighbor had an unexpected errand to run just as her loaves of bread were ready to bake, and she asked if I would bake them in my oven. When my husband returned from a grueling day of grad school an hour later, he sniffed the fragrant loaves browning beautifully in the oven and closed his eyes in ecstasy. I knew he was thinking: "And she bakes bread, too!" When the truth was revealed, he managed to accept it with grace and humor.

I think many of us can identify with Nina and Elliot in The Accidental Marriage. They meet in Scotland where Elliot is serving the last months of his LDS (Mormon) mission and Nina is enjoying a semester abroad. There is instant chemistry between the two, and when they reconnect later in Utah, it's still there. Marriage with its happy dreams and expectations soon follows. But paradoxically, the very qualities that attracted Nina and Elliot to each other before marriage were not what they expected after the vows were said. Nina's not domestic; she yearns to eventually attend law school. Elliot, who plans to be a dentist, doesn't think his wife needs a "real" career; home and family should be her domain once he's established in his profession. And she should also be a great cook. He expects this in part because his mother is a paragon of domesticity; surely Nina could become one, too.

And what does Nina expect? A lover of music and literature (and tennis), the English major recalls a moment in Scotland when, in her eyes, Elliot momentarily resembled her favorite poet: "Robbie Burns was standing next to me on the top of St. Rule's, so incredibly handsome, and the terra firma just moved beneath my feet." Elliot's response? "He wasn't sure he liked this. He felt like a stand-in for a dead poet."

The two end up in a cramped student apartment in Logan, Utah, where Elliot attends Utah State University and Nina bravely takes a job teaching middle school English. Reality soon sets in and they find themselves in an unhappy partnership. Adding to her stress, Nina is confronted with blatant sexual harassment by the "good old boys" of her faculty, and when she faces it head-on, the results aren't pretty. (Did I mention that this book is set in the seventies?) Elliot's old girlfriend (a sweet paragon of domesticity and adored by Elliot's family) is also standing in the wings, waiting hopefully for him to come to his senses and choose her instead.

There are subplots illustrating the dynamics of the families in which Nina and Elliot were raised, and daily issues including finances, cooking, laundry...all of which become surprisingly important to the struggling couple. When they finally seek help from their LDS bishop, he identifies their painful conflicts in concrete terms and offers wise and compassionate counsel. In the end, of course, it's up to Nina and Elliot to change and grow and work hard toward a resolution if this marriage can survive.

There are some proofing errors and a couple of minor plot threads apparently got lost during the editing process.However, this reflects more on the publisher than the author and didn't affect my enjoyment of the book.

In The Accidental Marriage Haws delivers engaging, well-developed and realistic characters as well as a vivid picture of life in the 1970s, immersing the reader in the music, literature, fashions, educational practices and cultural influences of the era. Haws also creates a strong sense of place that almost functions as an additional character in the book. Though the cover art is clever and the unexpected humor within the story is delightful, this is a book that deals with serious issues and addresses them with depth. There are also some unexpected plot twists that make this book hard to put down.

The Accidental Marriage is not your mom's predictable Mormon romance that guarantees a happy ending from page one and contains stereotyped LDS characters. Haws has written a frank, thought-provoking and refreshing novel, a welcome addition to LDS literature.

Annette Haws was raised in a small college town in northern Utah. She graduated from Utah State University with a degree in English Education. She has done graduate work at the University of Iowa and the University of Utah. A schoolteacher for many years, Annette has set aside denim jumpers and sturdy shoes to pursue her interest in writing fiction. Currently residing in Holladay, Utah, Annette and her husband are the parents of four above-average children and have three spectacular grandchildren.

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