Monday, June 29, 2009

Perfection: A Memoir of Betrayal and Renewal by Julie Metz - 352 pgs


Book CoverWhen her husband of twelve years dies in her arms, Julie Metz thinks the worst has happened, but soon she discovers a horrible secret about the life that she and her husband shared. Although Julie thought she had been living a life of domestic contentment with her husband Henry, the reality is that Henry had been involved in several sexual and romantic affairs over the entire length of their marriage. As Julie reflects on her marriage, a picture of Henry emerges: a narcissistic and insecure man who was far more concerned with himself and his needs than that of his beleaguered wife and child. At times, Henry could be dually romantic and thoughtful, but she also discovers that he could be sly and secretive, eventually discovering an indiscretion that went on with increasing intensity for years, only terminated with his death. Julie realizes that her life was not what she had thought, and has difficulty adjusting both to these new revelations and to her new social status as a wronged widow in a small town. As she deals with her growing feelings of resentment and anger, she must also find a way to remain composed and present for her young daughter. Eventually she begins to contact the other women in Henry's life in the hopes of understanding the man who she realized she never really knew at all. Perfection is Julie's hauntingly honest and intensely reflective journey through deception, acceptance, and eventual healing.

This was a very powerful book. Juile's discoveries and their aftermath were told in a vibrantly forthright manner that left no stone unturned. Even before the details of Henry's secret were uncovered, I had some troubles with him. He seemed to be a very selfish and vain man who was totally disconnected from the realities of parenting and marriage. It was impossible to feel any sympathy for him because he always seemed to be exhibiting troubling behavior. He was very jealous that his wife spent more time focused on their daughter than on himself, and seemed to alternately fly off the handle or be unresponsive to his wife's emotional needs. It was frustrating to read about first his callousness and eventually his indiscretions.

Julie brilliantly chronicled her downward emotional spiral in a way that was both easy to envision and understand. As her confusion and resentment towards Henry begins to bleed into all aspects of her life, she never blames herself, which I thought embodied a great sense of empowerment over her situation. She did not slide into the self-pity that I would expect of a woman in this situation, but rather used her anger and hurt to fuel the quest for discovery that she needed to complete in order to heal. I found her willingness to find the other women Henry had dallied with to be very courageous, and something that I don't know if I would have been able to manage. Henry had essentially led two lives, and although in hindsight she could see there was some oddness in his behavior, the bombshell that was dropped on her had taken her totally by surprise. Unfortunately, there was a lot to discover and the more she dived in, the more she ended up retrieving. From his brief one night stands to his long romantic entanglement with a friend, Julie painstakingly uncovers it all, often carrying on correspondence with each of the women. In trying to decipher Henry's motivations for his affairs, she discovers that Henry had been trying to reinvent himself with each woman, trying to find the elusive perfection of the book's title.

As Julie is piecing together all this information, she is also trying to regain some normalcy in her life. She begins dating and after a brief period of hopelessness, throws herself into being a responsible and caring single mother. Julie has a way of imparting this story in a no-nonsense fashion and deals with her emotions on a level that I found to be very objective and open. Instead of painting Henry in the most negative light possible, she admits that the problems between the two were not solely of her husband's making. It would be easy to for her to sit in the seat of the victim, passing judgment on Henry and his infidelities, but she is far more honest and fair in her tale than this. Though life with Henry was not unbearable, it was not a picnic either. She relates with painful detail the crushing responsibilities that he would not share with her, instead choosing to rove the country in search of ideas for his novels (in addition to the women he was collecting).

I really felt a great sense of happiness for Julie when she began to move forward in her life and was able to put the past behind her. She had an unrelenting spirit about her that made me want to root for her, to see her finally happy after the ordeal that she had been put through. She concludes her tale with a healthy dose of forgiveness and understanding for the man who betrayed her, something that again I would find difficult, but for Julie, it seems completely natural and right. This tale is not only cautionary, but it is obvious that in her own way, Julie's writing of this memoir is an act of healing.

This was a very satisfying and immersive read, and by it's end I felt that I had really gotten to personally know the author and her struggles. In the simple act of forgiveness that she extended to Henry, she surpassed an emotional level that you don't often find in people. If you are a memoir reader and are looking for one with bite and insight, I highly recommend this book. I don't think you will be disappointed.

12 comments:

Dar said...

What a fantastic review. I have this book in my tbr pile and now I'm anxious to get to it.

Marie said...

Great review. I've heard a lot of great things about Perfection & I'm glad you enjoyed it so much.

Diane said...

Great review; I enjoyed this one too :)

Nymeth said...

I like the sound of this book - difficult, honest and ultimately hopeful. Thank you for the fabulous review.

Aarti said...

Wow, great review! Will have to look into this book. The start of your review had me thinking of Kazuo Ishiguro's (sp?) The Remains of the Day. If you haven't read that one, you might like it- similar forthright prose about a man who realizes his former employer wasn't so wonderful.

Suko said...

This sounds like an honest book about complicated lives, and your review is well-written. Thanks!

Steph said...

Wow, this sounds incredibly intense! I'm probably not in the right mindset for it right now what with the impending nuptuals, but I'm going to keep it in mind for the future. Great review!

Anonymous said...

I just finished and reviewed this one. I agree. . . I did really feel like I knew (and liked!) Metz by the end of the book.

Amy Reads Good Books said...

I just finished and reviewed this one. I agree. . . I did really feel like I knew (and liked!) Metz by the end of the book.

Melissa - Shhh I'm Reading said...

Great review! I didn't like this one quite as much as you did, and am having a hard time getting my review written for it...

Dawn - She is Too Fond of Books said...

I love personal memoir, and have PERFECTION on my tbr. Will bring it on vacation next month; thanks for the strong endorsement!

Petunia said...

You are very thorough. I was curious about this book when I first saw it. Thanks for making it sound so appealing.

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