February 2005

Angela Stubbs

fiction

Garrett in Wedlock by Paul Mandelbaum

Paul Mandelbaum introduces us to the quirks and oddities that make up a family in his latest work, Garrett in Wedlock. This novel-in-stories covers a wide range of predicaments ranging from divorce, marriage, spirituality, adultery, and childbirth. Garrett, the middle-aged, but not-so average main character of these stories finds himself the third husband-to-be of May-Annlouise, an alluring and often difficult woman who loves Garrett for his plainness. Garrett himself claims he is “without ethnic heritage or heritage in general really…” These stories are also shared by Lynn, the daughter of Turpin and an Indian Muslim, Parni, and her brother Turpin, the needy and often troubled son of Norwegian anthropologist Tor. We watch the lives of Garrett and his new wife and stepchildren from childhood and into adolescence as the stories progress. Following Garrett into the cultural milieu he finds himself a part of is entertaining, moving and anything but generic.

In Mandelbaum’s first story of the novel, “Garrett in Wedlock,” we see Garrett attempt to deal with his preoccupation of wedding day angst as he prepares to head to the courthouse for his nuptials. The solar eclipse that is about to take place also represents a larger obscurity in regard to his new life with May-Annlouise and what his role will be with his stepchildren. Garrett’s senses seem to indicate there are loose ends that have yet to be tied up on his wedding day.

Facing the mirror, he struggled to knot his bow tie. It flapped in his fingers like a small bird caught on his shirt. Starting over and over again, Garrett soon broke into a sweat. He stared at his reflection and wondered if this business with the tie was meant to tell him something. Just as he’d wondered about the eclipse due shortly after noon. Just as he’d wondered absurdly about that expired date on the cottage cheese.

In “The Explorers,” Tor arrives on Garrett’s doorstep with an incurable disease called kuru, (which eats holes in the brain) asking to please die in the only place he could call home. For the children, time with Tor is like being on an expedition. The gifts and the stories are all a bit much for Garrett who hopes to seduce his wife as a means of forgetting about Tor and the overwhelming effect he’d had on all of them.

Turpin and Lynn seem to have issues all their own. As Turpin grows up, he finds his ideals and attitude toward spirituality and relationships take on different meaning in “Several Answers” where he gets caught for shoplifting and stealing a car. The house arrest and general drama that befalls Turpin causes him to think about reincarnation. Lynn yearns to be close to her Indian father, Parni, and begins taking an interest in her heritage and traditions by learning about the Qu’ran. She even allows Parni to arrange a marriage for her. Parni, while physically absent from Lynn’s life, becomes portentous.

Mandelbaum has a great knack for well-placed humor. He gives vivid details that illuminate his stories with every page and make it difficult for the reader to overlook. “The Omelet King” is a fine example of his comedic flair and great detail. Guillaume Voila! The Omelet King arrives in this story with his van full of eggs and cooking gear, ready for the evening. A French caterer who deems himself “The Omelet King” is quick to come up with witty banter and advice for a distraught Garrett. This story is not just about Lynn’s wedding but more importantly how Turpin rebels against this arranged marriage by leading his very own kind of protest.

It was scary how she sometimes anticipated his thoughts, and he wondered if, under the veil, her other senses had become heightened. He felt the air tickle his knees; he’d cut the holes as a protest, and she probably couldn’t even see them clearly. How inept of him.

Throughout the course of Garrett in Wedlock we witness domestic comedy, egotism, spiritual quests and the ebb and flow of marriage. Often these moments take place whilst dealing with yoga classes and the bumper stickers that inspire: BALTIMORE YOGA WORKS. Whether contending with the challenges of fertility therapy, affairs, arranged marriages or drugs and adolescence, Garrett In Wedlock paints an elaborate labyrinth of love and marriage that often invites misery to be a guest in its maze. The lives in Garrett In Wedlock exemplify the hoops that we often jump through to make things work. This, however, is one circus act all readers can take part in.

Garrett in Wedlock by Paul Mandelbaum
Berkley Trade
ISBN: 0425196372
295 pages