The Marriage Diaries
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“Brutally honest and wonderfully witty, The Marriage Diaries had me laughing and crying–often at the same time.”
–Gemma Townley, author of Little White Lies
Meet Sean and Celeste–living proof that opposites attract.
Savvy and sophisticated Celeste is a top clothing buyer in London; Sean is a scruffy, eccentric writer turned stay-at-home dad who, courtesy of the couple’s toddler, has mastered the art of changing stinky diapers. Needing to be seen (if only by himself) as more than just a drool-spattered Mr. Mom, Sean begins a hilarious journal detailing the ridiculous, wondrous, and sometimes salacious aspects of being a househusband–including such juicy tidbits as his growing attraction to the beautiful Uma Thursday, a single mother from his son’s play group.
But when Celeste stumbles upon Sean’s secret entries, she’s dismayed to discover she’s opened a Pandora’s box on her marriage. Hardly the kind of girl to take a straying husband lying down, she devises a scheme of her own, and the twin strands of the will-they-won’t-they plot become ever more entangled. Can love trump lust? Can fidelity conquer passion? Or will the destructive forces of untrammeled desire wreck what may just be, for all its faults, the perfect marriage?
With sparkling wit and characters who leap off the page, Rebecca Campbell has crafted a brilliant and utterly winning novel about vows, straying, and finding a way home.
From the Trade Paperback edition.
Random House Publishing Group
; December 2008
288 pages; ISBN 9780307487964Read online
, or download in secure EPUB
Title: The Marriage Diaries
Author: Rebecca Campbell
It was eight o’clock when I came in. The weather was filthy, and I was shaking with cold. My third-favorite Manolo Blahniks were ruined with the rain. It had been a day of such grinding awfulness that I just wanted wine and sympathy. My nerves were plinking manically like an avant-garde Bulgarian jazz trio. Usually Sean comes to meet me at the door to the apartment when he hears the jangle of my keys, but tonight there was nothing but the dark hall echoing to the clicking of my destroyed heels. Then I heard the TV murmuring and went into the living room.
At the sight of my two boys, I felt the horrors of the day depart like a shaggy old crow taking off from a tree. They were sleeping. Harry was wrapped up in his Spider-Man duvet, nothing showing except his white face and his flop of blond hair. He was lying on Sean’s lap. Sean was half slumped on the sofa, his head at a crazy angle that gave me a neckache just to look at it. It’s hard not to love someone when you see them asleep. I went over to them and picked up Harry—soon he’d be too heavy for me. He nuzzled into me and made that noise like an old man eating porridge. Sean stirred.
“I wasn’t sleeping,” he said sleepily. “Just resting my eyes.”
It’s one of Sean’s things that he hates to be caught napping. He probably thought I’d use it against him—you know, totting up all his little sleeps and using them as an excuse for me to have a sleep in while he did the first diaper change of the morning.
“Harry wanted to watch this program about man-eating sharks.”
“Man-eating . . . ?”
“Yeah, I don’t know why it is, but there’re only two types of documentary on these days. It’s always either the Second World War or sharks. I should be grateful that Hitler never trained his own elite squadron of great whites or there’d be only the one documentary, ‘Nazi Killer Sharks.’ I suppose there might also be the porn channel version, ‘Nazi Killer Sharks’ Anal Adventures.’ ”
That was Sean all over. I mean, the way he could go straight from sleep to articulate rant.
“He shouldn’t really be watching that sort of thing,” I said, without edge. “It’ll give him nightmares.”
“No, it was one of those where they try to show the tender, nurturing side of the great white. Anyway, he fell asleep after the first attack. Seen one leg bitten off, seen ’em all.”
I took Harry to his bedroom and went back to sit next to Sean.
“Good day?” he asked, half an eye on the sharks.
“Didn’t you see the news? The papers?”
“Not really. Too busy looking after our child.”
I let that one go.
“The seventh most famous model in the world. The one who’s fronting up our new campaign.”
“Oh, her,” he said, clearly utterly baffled. I might as well have been talking about quantum mechanics to a pigeon. “What about her?”
“She was all over the tabloids this morning. They had a picture of her with a syringe sticking out of her groin.”
Yes, there she was, blurry but all too recognizable, her Marc Jacobs skirt pulled up to her waist, injecting herself in the upper thigh, like any other self-respecting long-term junkie. It was a disaster. Erica was all set to be the face (and, more important, the body) of our spring/summer campaign. Of course, PR isn’t my speciality, but I’m usually asked to sit in to give the buyers’ take on things, plus I’m friends with Milo, who is to fashion PR what Afghanistan is to high-grade raw opium. Erica was his idea, which made her my idea, which was why the grief poured upon me from on high.
I’d called Milo. I had the papers fanned on my desk. Some of the pictures took in the whole scene: Erica against a grimy background, her head hanging low, hair cascading like a dark auburn water- fall. Some focused more narrowly on the honey-colored thigh, the hand, the syringe.
“You’ve seen the photographs?” No point beating about the bush.
“Yes. Shame she wasn’t wearing one of your outfits. It’s not as if Marc Jacobs needed any more fucking exposure.”
“Milo, this is serious. Heroin chic is so 1990s.”
“Hey, listen, the classics never go out of fashion.”
“It’s not funny.”
“Who’s laughing? Look, there is a problem here, but not the one you think.”
“It’s pretty obvious what the problem is. Our new face is suddenly in the gutter, and boy is she not looking at the stars. And then, well, the poor girl—”
“It’s insulin, sweetheart.”
“Insulin? You can’t get stoned on . . . Oh.”
“I guess that’s . . . something. She kept it well hidden.”
“Oh, there were telltale signs. There always are.”
Diabetes. About as cool as colon cancer. I mean, there’s not even a ribbon for it.
“What should we do?”
“You mean dump her or keep her?”
“We couldn’t dump her just for being diabetic. We’d look terrible. And the campaign’s ready to roll. And the money. Oh God.”
“Okay, here’s what I’d do.” Milo was suddenly all silky professionalism. “Let’s keep a lid on the diabetes. Just put out a press release saying that Erica knows she’s got a problem, and she’s receiving treatment for it. Which, you know, is true enough. And so you’re sticking by her till she gets well. You’ll come across as caring and edgy at the same time. It’s a win-win.”
“Milo, you’re a genius.”
I managed to sell the concept internally, but we wouldn’t know if the fashion world would buy it until tomorrow.
But I couldn’t tell all that to Sean. It would reinforce everything he thinks about fashion. He’d sneer. Or scoff. Probably some combination of both. And I didn’t want sneers or scoffs, I wanted some love.
“That doesn’t sound too good,” he said, Sean, I mean, his eyes still drifting past me to the gnashing teeth and roiling water on the TV.
“I’m having a bath,” I said. “Need to relax. Any wine?”
That was a sort of hint. A glass of wine in the evening usually meant that I had something more in mind. And it had been a while. A month. Perhaps a little longer.
“Yeah, there’s a bottle open.”
“Bring me a glass in the bath, will you?”
Pause. More shark action. Or the hint that maybe he’s thinking something.
“Sure thing, babe.”
And he did, after I’d shouted a reminder from the bubbles.
“I’m off to do a bit of work,” he said, as he put the glass down carefully on the side of the bath.
So then I decided to go all out, preparing myself like a courtesan. I drizzled some scented oil in the bath, and when I emerged, I plucked my eyebrows into a design of wry insolence and even dusted my lashes, which is pretty impressive for postbath, late-night intimacy. I slipped into my most alluring night attire—nothing tacky—think 1890s decadence, not Texas whorehouse desperation. Okay, then, if you must know, it was a creamy silk chiffon slip from La Perla that cost almost exactly one week’s salary, but worth it, as you’d never guess that a child-ravaged figure was concealed beneath its subtle folds.
When I was ready, I lit some candles. Not that Sean cares about candles. He’ll look at a room glimmering with little flames and say “So who died?” or, shaking his head slowly, “Thomas Edison, you labored in vain.”
I found him in his study (Sean I mean, not Edison), tapping away at the keyboard. He was wearing the deep green velvet dressing gown I’d bought him for Christmas back in the distant pre-Harry past, when we’d spent hours lying in bed with our fingers touching, watching the light come into the morning. He wears it now whenever he thinks he’s going to be creative. The ivory silk lining is stained with coffee, and the velvet’s worn and flattened, but it still has a certain faded panache.
“I’m going to bed,” I said unambiguously.
I mean, just how obvious was I supposed to be?
“Be through here in a minute,” he said, without looking around at me.
I sighed. I tutted. I may even have groaned. He didn’t notice, so I went to wait for him in bed. I arranged myself artfully and then changed my pose three or four times, revealing now more shoulder, now more leg. Then I got up and reapplied my lipstick, shifting hues from cassis to plum. After yet more carefully posed languorous lounging, I began to flick through Vogue, but I soon came across Erica Svebo looking beautifully debauched in a Calvin Klein ad, and I really didn’t want to see any more of her, so I threw the magazine down and thought about Harry and how much I loved him—and Sean as well, of course—and how happy we all were, and how lucky.
I know that some people think I’m cold, and perhaps I can be. But that’s because someone has to be in this relationship. We couldn’t both carry on like college kids, dreaming and loafing our way through life. Someone had to earn the money. Someone had to put in the hours.
I suppose I must have known what I was getting with Sean. I was getting someone kind and funny, with a face that appeared quite handsome until he smiled, and then, once that smile was uncoiled, completely irresistible. Hair sometimes curly, sometimes just messy. Blue eyes, and again, you didn’t realize how blue and how lovely they were until he took his glasses off, and it was a real showstopper when he did: people would lose track of what they were saying and fall silent and stare at him. I knew that he’d explain the world to me and make me read books I wouldn’t otherwise have picked up. I knew he’d make a wonderful father, full of stories and games. And I knew he’d never earn enough for us to be able to forget about money.
What a very strange thing love is. He, of course, would leap like a wolf—and I mean a brainy wolf with glasses and messy hair—on my terminology, saying that love isn’t a thing at all and that turning a thing that isn’t a thing into a thing is the root of all our problems. He’d probably call it—I mean love—a “process” or dismiss it completely as a figment, a phantasmagoria, a myth, a tool used by someone, almost certainly the bourgeoisie, to control someone else, most likely his beloved toilers of the field and laborers underground. But all that doesn’t mean that, whatever it is, it isn’t strange.
By love, I don’t really mean the feelings that burn away inside you with a desire you can never quench, or the other kind of love feelings, the ones that come in glorious engulfing waves like the epidural kicking in on top of the shot of really good stuff you’ve managed to plead out of the soft anesthetist. Or, for that matter, the love that comes over as fear when you look at your child asleep with his one-legged G.I. Joe, and you think of all the terrible things that might happen to him (the child, not the G.I. Joe, about whose fate I find myself curiously unmoved)—the falling out of high windows, the swallowing bleach, the cascade of boiling oil from the pulled-down pan, moving on to the stammering loneliness of school, the killing rejections from hard-faced girls (it takes one to know one), the growing depression and isolation, the bottle of pills and the stomach pump. No, I don’t mean the feelings at all. I mean the everything, the situations you find yourself in, the things you do and don’t do, the things you say and don’t say. Without love, there’d be none of those, and life would come in a much simpler shape.
I woke up without realizing I’d fallen asleep. The room was dark, the candles burned down or blown out. I felt Sean beside me, breathing in a long, slow rhythm. I looked at the bedside clock. It was one thirty. I’d had nothing to eat, and I felt hunger kick inside, like a quickening baby. I weighed up the pros and cons of getting out of this nice, warm bed. But I was too hungry to sleep, and then there was all that futile makeup to remove.
I had to walk past the study. The door was ajar, and I could see the cold light from the monitor. Sean had forgotten to switch it off. There was a screen saver playing, the one that creates a perfect aquarium, with tropical fish turning slowly in the water. It was rather lovely, and so lifelike I didn’t want to turn it off—it would have felt like draining the water from a tank of real fish. But as I turned to leave, I accidentally nudged the keyboard. The fish disappeared, replaced by words. At the top, it said “SEANJOURNALONE.DOC.” And then it said “POOH.” I smiled.
The whole journal thing had been my idea in the first place. Sean was very proud of his new video camera, which connected to his computer in all kinds of clever ways and allowed him to make and edit films, and start talking about Visconti and Tarkovsky and the “spirit of the beehive,” whatever that was. The plan was to have a complete record of Harry’s development, showing his first steps, his first words, his first successful circumnavigation of his potty, that sort of thing. He bought it in time for Harry’s first birthday party. I’d invited a few friends round—Milo, Galatea, Katie, Ludo—and told them to bring champagne for us rather than presents for the boy, and we all got fairly sloshed. Sean took a couple of minutes of film and then gave the camera to Harry, who was strapped into his high chair, drunk on cake and apple juice. Being a baby rather than Steven Spielberg, he first tried to lick the camera and then threw it on the floor, where, upon impact, it made a sound like a pensioner’s hip breaking. Sean found it funny until he realized that the thing was, in his words, “utterly and completely fucked.”
Sean wanted to go out and spend £1,000 on a new one, but I thought that I’d already forgone enough pairs of new shoes in the lost cause of the original and forbade it.
“You’re supposed to be good at writing,” I said. “So why don’t you capture it all in words?”
So was planted the seed. And now here it was. The first shoot.
We didn’t have secrets, so I read on.
From the Trade Paperback edition.
In the press
Praise for Rebecca Campbell’s THE MARRIAGE DIARIES
“Hilarious…deep in the jungle of featherweight romantic intrigue…Campbell upped the ante.” — People (three out of four stars)
“Utterly contemporary. . . The Marriage Diaries is witty, saucy, vulgar, sexually explicit, scatological, insightful, and a lot of fun. Rebeccca Campbell brings a transforming burst of energy to the well-worn subjects of maritial ennui and infidelity. Her main characters could be cliches . . .but in Campbell’s hands they’re fresh, funny, real.”
— The Boston Sunday Globe
“…Enjoy the neat trick Campbell has pulled off: a really funny book about a realistically troubled relationship. Campbell paints a rich and multi-layered portrait of a loving, if slightly imperfect, marriage.” — Chicago Sunday Sun-Times
“[Campbell] offers a convincing depiction of marital ennui, infidelity, and reconciliation. Smart, emotionally honest entertainment. “
— Kirkus Reviews, Starred Review
“Campbell blends strained fidelity, the perils of parenting and a heaping dose of bodily-function jokes with a scathing British wit. . . Campbell has crafted a steamy springboard to what could be a fiery sequel.” — Publishers Weekly
“Brutally honest and wonderfully witty, The Marriage Diaries had me laughing and crying, often at the same time.” — Gemma Townley, author of Little White Lies
“As in all the best love stories, Campbell’s protagonists meet the challenges of intimacy with their wills as much as their hearts.” — Contra Costa Times
“…a witty examination of modern marriage and gender roles…” — Romantic Times Book Reviews
From the Trade Paperback edition.