My Husband's Wedding
stories by Patricia Watson

0-9736709-0-8
186 Pages
July 01, 2004
Fiction All Titles

$19.95

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My Husband's Wedding stories by Patricia Watson

Patricia Watson's My Husband's Wedding is an astonishing record of the lives of three women in Toronto in the 1980s. All three have to deal with marital problems, adolescent children, and finding their own professional and personal identities outside of the traditional family model. In the process they come to know and love one another, to rely on the warmth and support they can offer, whether through sympathy or humour.

"What a great title! In these linked stories (as in an Alice Munro collection), Patricia Watson takes us back to the 1980s, when the divorce rate was peaking and married couples were experiencing the unimagined joys and sorrows of life beyond matrimony. Watson explores the cracks in our lives with wonderful subtlety and humour – no purple prose here – and exposes our vulnerability and longing with exquisite clarify. Her great gift is that her characters breathe on the page."
~Judy Steed, Toronto Star feature writer and author of three non-fiction books.

"Patricia Watson's stories are about family, friendship, love and the deprivation of love. She writes simply and directly about the comic tragedies of everyday life. The stories are funny, sad, human and engaging – we care about and identify with all her characters, even the ones we don't like. In the midst of their traumas, her women can smile at themselves philosophically. Subtle, ironic and poignant, Watson is a master of understatement. Her writing reaches beautiful heights."
~Karen Lavut, author of Simple Things and Jacques, Jungle Ballet.

"The same sensitivity, humour and understanding of the complexity of human relationships that Watson brought to her scripts underlies this wonderful collection of stories. A great read."
~Babs Church, film producer

Patricia Watson is a prize-winning film director, screenwriter and successful artist. Her film credits (from the NFB, CBC and TVO, as well as independent feature producers) include breakthrough documentaries on issues of adoption, immigration and women in mid-life. With this volume, she now turns her keen wit and skillful observations to fiction.

“Watson explores the cracks in our lives with wonderful subtlety and humour and exposes our vulnerability and longing with exquisite clarify. Her great gift is that her characters breathe on the page.”
–Judy Steed, Toronto Star feature writer

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Reviewed by Judy Steed

Like Alice Munro's short stories, Patricia Watson's collection of tales in My Husband's Wedding are linked by time, place and characters: the early 1980s in Toronto's Cabbagetown neighborhood, recently gentrified, home to three apparently happily-married couples who've raised their children and shared domestic pleasures together. Who are about to become statistics in the surging divorce rate that results from the liberalization of Canada's divorce laws in that period. Watson's territory is the transitional time between the pre-feminist era when women's identities were securely‹they thought‹anchored in being wives and mothers. And the burgeoning so-called second (or is that third?) wave of feminism that brought women's aspirations to the fore.

As their children grow, Watson's main characters‹Liz, Caroline and Jo-Anne‹feel the creative itch. They want to get out of the house, into the broader world, do things apart from their families. Their focus shifts from their men, and their lives implode. Watson's touch is deft, her pace unhurried, her capacity to expose pain, vulnerability and sudden bursts of joy quite breathtaking. There's a lack of apparent effort to her writing that is pleasing, yet she cracks the whip of insight sharply.

Here's Liz, having stayed at home with her children, now 14 and 12, venturing back to school, art school, discovering her creativity. Her husband Brian, an architect whose business is in a slump, pretends to be supportive while sabotaging her efforts. He calls her repeatedly at art school, interrupting her work. "My life doesn't have any meaning," he announces. The counter is stacked with dishes. The dishwasher needs emptying. "What are you going to do about this mess?" Brian says as Liz rushes off to school. His response to "the mess" is to seduce a young art student almost 30 years his junior whom Liz has befriended. Despite the betrayal, Liz wants her husband back, but is forced to move forward on her own. Watson's women don't get stuck: Caroline escapes a childhood landscape littered by the wreckage of an alcoholic father who sank to the depths of stealing Caroline's precious $50 bursary toward university fees. Typical of children of alcoholic parents, Caroline feels more affection for her rabble-rousing father than for her long-suffering mother, who struggled to raise a brood of kids with a husband who drank his (intermittent) paycheques, forcing the family to move constantly. Caroline can't remember a time in her childhood when she felt safe. She marries an alcoholic, eventually leaves him and realizes she "attracts the wrong kind of man." Jo-Anne deals with the grief of an ectopic pregnancy and the realization that she will never be able to have children. With an unflinching gaze, Watson explores Jo-Anne's feelings about "the shame of infertility," about being "defective, a failed woman."

There are wonderful moments of reconciliation‹between aging mother and middle-aged daughter, between parents and children‹and compassion for our limitations, of ways we hurt each other without meaning to. Jo-Anne asks her pious mother, "Do you love me?" Her mother responds, "Of course I love you — I wasn"t a very good mother — I didn't show affection." This is a marvelous book, filled with miraculous moments of vulnerability, resilience, and growth. As I wrote in a brief quote for the jacket copy of My Husband's Wedding, Watson's "great gift is that her characters breathe on the page."

After I finished the book, I kept thinking about it. Something was puzzling me. I think this is part of it (does one ever truly solve puzzles?): Pat Watson is writing about a time that in a way feels like ancient history to me. A time when women stayed at home with their children and were not responsible for their families' economic fates. When women were incredibly vulnerable to their husbands' changing needs. I am the child of a mother who was "trapped" at home with four children, in an unhappy marriage. The (unspoken) message I got from my mother was "Don't live like me." My feminism was shaped by my mother's plight. My generation wanted independence and careers first; we wanted to tell the truth, expose the myths, the violence, the despair. We were driven by economic necessity and, certainly in my case, less interested in "family." For me, and many others, "family" was not a happy concept. Now my daughter's generation seems to be finding a more comfortable balance between the desire for children and family and interesting work. Yet my daughter's friends‹women in their late 30s‹are as vulnerable as Watson's women to issues of fertility, the pain of not being able to conceive (often because they left it too late), and the vulnerability of depending on men, who are much more involved in family life now than they were back then. These are the kinds of things you might think about when you read this engrossing book. Things change, and some things don't

Judy Steed is an author and feature writer at the Toronto Star.

Originally published in Canadian Woman Studies/les cahiers de la femme (Winter/Spring 2006): forthcoming.

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