I MARRIED YOU FOR HAPPINESS
By Lily Tuck. (Grove Press, 193 pages, $14)
Lily Tuck's rich, poignant novel (newly released in paperback) opens with an artist named Nina discovering that her beloved husband, Philip, a mathematician, has died in their bed while she was making dinner. And, oh, from there, the book is lovely and sad. Over the course of one long night, Nina lies down at his side, takes his hand, remembers how they met, how they courted, how they grew apart and back together over 43 years. Her memories are not strictly chronological, and they are interrupted by sharp, sad moments from the present that slap you away from her happy memories of walking in Paris, or honeymooning in Mexico. The marriage was not perfect; Nina was unfaithful, and she suspects that Philip was, as well. Their daughter gave them worries. But Nina's memories (flawed as they are) are earthy and sensual: food, and drink, and lovemaking in steamy afternoons. "I Married You for Happiness" is not just the love story of Nina and Philip, it is a love story to the institution of marriage.
LAURIE HERTZEL, BOOKS EDITOR
By Alan Lightman (Pantheon, 224 pages, $24.95)
In this short, whimsical disquisition on science and spirituality, Alan Lightman presents the musings and experiments of Mr. g, that all-powerful deity who is responsible for everything. Our narrator first creates time, then space, quantum physics and all else. At each step he refines prototypes until he is satisfied. Then his theologian side takes over, considering the implications of such inventions as planets, life and consciousness. All that limits his awesome power is, well, his consideration for his kindly Uncle Deva and his crabby Aunt Penelope. And herein lies the problem. What would a consciousness -- and a divine consciousness at that -- be like in the matter-less expanses of the cosmos? G is keenly descriptive and occasionally amusing -- yet by far reminds me too much of a college prof who demands that you enjoy his sense of humor. In 1965 Italo Calvino published "Cosmicomics," a set of short stories much like "Mr. g." Calvino's narrator is, in different tales, a morsel of cosmic dust, a dinosaur, a disembodied consciousness, a land animal that has recently crawled out of the swamp -- always ready to evolve to the next stage, always curious about scientific enigmas he encounters. In its concern with the unfolding of the universe and its unusual narrative perspective, "Mr. g" is a descendant of Calvino's remarkable collection, and unfortunately, a pedestrian one. Where Calvino is a master storyteller who is captivated by science, Lightman is a theoretical physicist who frames his lectures in tedious parables.
TOM ZELMAN, FREELANCE WRITER