Thursday, April 25, 2019

Book 178: Stay With Me



"I loved Yejide from the very first moment. No doubt about that. But there are things even love can't do. Before I got married, I believed love could do anything. I learned soon enough that it couldn't bear the weight of four years without children. If the burden is too much and stays too long, even love bends, cracks, comes close to breaking and sometimes does break. But even when it's in a thousand pieces under your feet, that doesn't mean it's no longer love."

Dates read: September 19-22, 2017

Rating: 7/10

Sometimes it seems like there are two kinds of long-married couples: those who genuinely love and appreciate each other, and those who seem to have just decided that they're sticking to it because of stubbornness, mutual resentment, "for the children", or any variety of reasons that aren't love. When I read stories about couples who've been married for decades, I find myself wondering which group that pair falls in. Are the latter something we should be celebrating, honestly? I've known people who got married only to find out later that the person they thought they were swearing forever to isn't who they've ended up with. Ending a marriage, even one that's gone sour, sounds like it's an agonizing decision, and I can't help but think that the social pressure to not make that decision keeps people together who might be better off apart.

What exactly it means to be married, and married well, is at the heart of Ayobami Adebayo's Stay With Me. When we first meet Yejide, we learn that technically, she's had a long marriage. She's lived apart from her husband, Akin, for many years, but she receives an invitation to attend his father's funeral as his guest that sends her on a reminisce about their past, and how their separation came to be. They met at university in Nigeria, and though they were both seeing other people at the time, quickly fell in love and got married. Their marriage was happy, except that even after several years, they were childless. Though Akin and Yejide were a modern couple, his parents were traditional, and if their first-born son couldn't produce an heir for the family with his wife, they had a solution: a second wife.

This is the first in a series of what come to be deep, deep cracks in Akin and Yejide's relationship. Yejide is desperate to keep her husband to herself, and knows that in order to do that, she must somehow become pregnant...which she does. The plot has several twists and turns, and while I'm usually not especially fussed about spoilers, this is one of the cases where I feel like letting the plot unfold as you read is important. Though the book is relatively short (under 300 pages), Adebayo deals with some powerful themes: love, marriage, mental health, trust, family, sex, and what it means to be a parent.

This is a debut novel, and in some ways, it shows. Some of the plot twists seemed to be a little too difficult to believe, and it sometimes felt that they were being deployed too quickly, with too little time for each to really settle and resonate before the next one came along. And while I appreciated the way she paralleled the upheavals and tensions of the central marriage alongside the political turmoil roiling Nigeria during the lives of the characters, references to it often felt shoehorned in. I felt like the book should have been longer, which could have ameliorated both issues by letting the plot breathe a bit.

At the end of the day, though, this is the kind of debut which makes me really excited for the author's follow-up(s). Yejide is a fantastic character...she's not always likable, and often makes poor choices, but remains sympathetic throughout. The perspective we get into her childhood informs the person she comes to be, and I wish we'd gotten a bit more of this with Akin. We get some, but he's less well-developed than she is and I think the book could have been even stronger if we'd gotten more of his perspective. Despite its flaws, I enjoyed this book and look forward to following Adeyabo's career. I would recommend it, but maybe not to everyone. I think it'll appeal most to readers who enjoy character-based domestic dramas and don't mind if they occasionally trend towards the implausible in their plotting.

Tell me, blog friends...what do you think are good reasons for ending a marriage, if any?

One year ago, I was reading: Rosemary's Baby (review to come)

Two years ago, I was reading: A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius

Three years ago, I was reading: The President's Club

2 comments:

  1. I recently got this book, so I’m glad you mostly liked it. I hope I love it and want to read everything else the author publishes. I’m always nervous about debuts because some of them are disasters.

    Aj @ Read All The Things!

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    1. I actually read it a second time about a year after the first one because it was chosen for my book club and it was still enjoyable (albeit flawed)

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