Review 1380: Literary Wives! Ties

Today is another review for the Literary Wives blogging club, in which we discuss the depiction of wives in fiction. If you have read the book, please participate by leaving comments on any of our blogs. Be sure to read the reviews and comments of the other wives!

We are sorry that Emily of The Bookshelf of Emily J. has left our group because of her many commitments. We’re going to miss her!

Eva of Paperback Princess
Lynn of Smoke and Mirrors
Naomi of Consumed By Ink

* * *

Ties is a very short novel divided into three parts. It is about a marriage, but moreso, it is about how a period of infidelity in that marriage affects everyone in this small family. Part I consists of letters written by the wife, Vanda, after her husband leaves her. Part II is narrated by the husband 40 years after they reconcile. Part III is from the point of view of their two children.

Initially, I was sympathetic to Vanda. After all, her husband leaves her with almost no warning and then neglects her and her children for several years, refusing to discuss their situation and too busy being happy with his girlfriend. His explanations for the affair are laden with sophism. Where did this idea come from, repeated twice, that it’s bad to resist impulses? It’s the 70’s, but come on. However, Vanda’s tone in the letters is too insistent, too strident.

An old man, Aldo is forced to revisit this period in their lives after a break-in. Cleaning up, he finds Vanda’s letters and reads them again. He sees his old affair with Lidia as a bid for freedom that was defeated out of guilt. After he and his wife reunited, she used his unhappiness to beat him and make him submissive. Worse, from the children’s point of view, she removed his role of father from the family.

This book was obviously written by a man.

Throughout the book are themes of boxes or being boxed in versus freedom and themes of cheating or being cheated.

What does this book say about wives or about the experience of being a wife?

We understand that Vanda and Aldo were happy and content for some years, although for a few years before the breakup, they were less so. But in this book we only see Vanda as a shrew. Of course, there is reason for her to be unhappy when her husband leaves her and the children with nothing and then avoids them for years. Still, she carries her reactions to an extreme, especially after they reunite.

For his part, Aldo seems to see her and their children as a trap. Interesting, how some men seem to forget they actually participated in having children. Once he has left them, he prefers to think only of Lidia. Later in life, he’s been downtrodden for so long, yet he sees Lidia once a year and secretly keeps photos of her in a box.

Jhumpa Lahiri, in her introduction, says the novel is about creating and destroying. To me, it is just about destroying. Aldo was happy with Lidia but didn’t have the courage to stay with her. At the same time, he destroyed what seemed to be a happy marriage with Vanda in the worst possible way, by deserting his family. When he comes back out of guilt, the two of them create an even worse mess.


11 thoughts on “Review 1380: Literary Wives! Ties

  1. Lynn @ Smoke & Mirrors August 5, 2019 / 11:34 am

    I don’t know, Kay. I question just how “happy and content” Aldo was. Vanda was much as I was…immersed in caring for her children, saving money whenever and however she could, and trying to get everything done every day that she felt must be done. Is there monotony and routine in those tasks? Of course! But that is life…at least for the wife. I felt Starnone did a good job of representing that divide. Aldo felt no such compulsion, only to make himself happy and if that meant abandoning the woman he supposedly loved (though we learn the love of his life was NOT his wife) and the children he helped bring into this world, as you so aptly noted, then so be it. He was okay with it. I truly felt sorriest for the children. I always feel the children suffer the most. That said, according to Aldo, he endured some of the worst possible scenes of abuse of his mother at his father’s hands. I felt the likelihood was strong that he probably is suffering from PTSD at the very least. That is very common for adults who have survived such childhood trauma. Or…was that just a bunch of lies he offered up as an excuse for his behavior? We’ll never know. I like your analysis that “This book was obviously written by a man.” 🙂

    • whatmeread August 5, 2019 / 2:54 pm

      This ended up in my spam queue! Anyway, I think you mentioned everything in your other comment and I responded to some of it.

  2. Lynn @ Smoke & Mirrors August 5, 2019 / 11:52 am

    Oh, my. I just left a huge long comment which disappeared once I had logged in as WordPress forced me to do! LOL

    I was commenting that I was dubious about just how “happy and content” Aldo and Vanda were in the 12 years prior to his admitted dalliance with Lidia. I quite suspect Lidia was not the first female with whom he had had sex in that time period. And we learn that Vanda was definitely NOT the love of his life. So while Vanda, the ‘typical’ wife (at least from my perspective) was tending to the overwhelming minutiae of daily life: caring for the children, saving money wherever and however she could, and cleaning, cooking, meal planning, etc., Aldo was ultimately only concerned with his own happiness and fulfillment. If that meant he had to extricate himself from the lives of his wife and children, then so be it. That appeared not to bother him in the least. It was much the same for me. As a wife I immersed myself in caring for everyone and everything…except myself! It was such a rude awakening to realize I had not been “happy” for many years, but it hadn’t even occurred to me to ask myself. SMH

    I found it interesting that in Aldo’s rendition, he had visited his children quite often, but in Vanda’s he had rarely visited. We all skew our memories through our own lens.

    And then the children. I always feel the children tend to suffer most in such toxic family environments. But, if we are to believe Aldo, he witnessed and endured horrific physical abuse of his own mother by his father. If that was true, I feel Aldo was likely suffering from PTSD symptoms, at the very least, as is commonly caused by surviving such childhood trauma, or was he simply lying to try to excuse his own selfish self-serving behavior. Though I wonder if it might not have been better for the children if he hadn’t returned?

    I thought this was definitely a book worth reading. It certainly prompted many different feelings for me, having been through a somewhat similar situation with my first marriage.

    • whatmeread August 5, 2019 / 1:12 pm

      It was not a happy situation, and perhaps when I said they’d been happy, I was thinking of Vanda’s version, but on the other hand, Aldo doesn’t say he was unhappy before.

      Of course, the ultimate word comes in the last section, where we find how much the situation has damaged the children.

  3. Naomi August 6, 2019 / 10:20 am

    I think I liked the book more than you did – mainly because of the different perspectives he presents, especially the perspective of the grown children.
    Vanda definitely had the right to be angry, but I can’t help but wonder how realistic it is that she took it so far for so long. We really don’t know a lot about her before the marriage.
    What made me most angry was Aldo’s attitude that not following his own impulses was a worse betrayal than the betrayal of leaving his wife!

    • whatmeread August 6, 2019 / 10:34 am

      I think everyone liked the book more than I did! Even Jhumpa Lahiri! Yes, Aldo was infuriating. Did he ever really recognize what he did to the family? I don’t think so.

      • Naomi August 6, 2019 / 10:39 am

        I don’t think so, either. He seemed so spinless and clueless.

      • whatmeread August 6, 2019 / 10:47 am

        And self-absorbed

  4. The Paperback Princess August 6, 2019 / 4:27 pm

    I really like your review. Especially your observation that this book was clearly written by a man, something I thought to myself while reading it.
    I basically agree with everything that you are saying here but I think I enjoyed the book more than you did. I think I liked that everyone recognized the misery they were causing each other but no one cared enough to be the one to leave this time.
    I really liked the last section, where the kids are the ones reflecting on their parents’ marriage. I’m pretty sure I giggled when it was they that decided to trash the apartment! What an ending!

    • whatmeread August 6, 2019 / 6:03 pm

      I don’t know if they truly recognize the misery they’ve caused others. I think part of the problem is they don’t.. But thanks for your comments. I know everyone liked the novel more than I did!

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