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Wednesday, November 4, 2009

'Perfection: a memoir of betrayal & renewal' by Julie METZ

From the BLURB:

Julie Metz's life changes forever on one ordinary January afternoon when her husband, Henry, collapses on the kitchen floor and dies in her arms. Suddenly, this mother of a six-year-old is the young widow in a bucolic small town. And this is only the beginning. Seven months after Henry's death, just when Julie thinks she is emerging from the worst of it, comes the rest of it: She discovers that what had appeared to be the reality of her marriage was but a half-truth. Henry had hidden another life from her.
"He loved you so much." That's what everyone keeps telling her. It's true that he loved Julie and their six-year-old daughter ebulliently and devotedly, but as she starts to pick up the pieces and rebuild her life without Henry in it, she learns that Henry had been unfaithful throughout their twelve years of marriage. The most damaging affair was ongoing--a tumultuous relationship that ended only with Henry's death. For Julie, the only thing to do was to get at the real truth--to strip away the veneer of "perfection" that was her life and confront each of the women beneath the veneer.
Perfection is the story of Julie Metz's journey through chaos and transformation as she creates a different life for herself and her young daughter. It is the story of coming to terms with painful truths, of rebuilding both a life and an identity after betrayal and widowhood. It is a story of rebirth and happiness--if not perfection.

The first chapter of ‘Perfection’ is a poignant retelling of Metz’s journey as a first-time widow. Metz is quite funny, very witty and bold in her mourning – she explores facets of grieving that are universal but rarely discussed;

Henry had been dead for a month. I was horny. I was horrified.

When she discovers Henry’s infidelity it is a shocking blow, despite the fact that as readers we’ve been gearing up for the explosion from the get-go. A combustive mixture of grief, denial, sadness and white-hot anger are succinctly described by Metz;

I couldn’t kill Henry anymore, since he was, conveniently enough, dead.

It’s an uncomfortable subject matter, but like a car wreck you can’t stop reading. Much like Julie Metz herself, when she discovered her husbands numerous affairs, she was able to feed her despairing curiosity by reading Henry’s journals and e-mail correspondence. Henry vividly recounted his trysts in his diary and through e-mails with one of his lovers, and Metz likens reading these excerpts to following tabloid gossip, her very own “small-town celebrity horror show”.

The pen is indeed mightier than the sword. I relish the fact that Metz holds nothing back against Henry’s mistresses – especially her ‘friend’ who had a two-year affair with Henry (the same ‘friend’ whose daughter was best friend’s with Metz’s child – it’s revealed that play dates between the children were convenient rendezvous’). In interviews with Metz she has confirmed that her husbands mistresses are all aware of the book, but she doesn’t know if they have read it. As a reader you completely sympathize with Metz and vicariously loathe the ‘other women’ (especially the poisonous ‘friend’), you can only hope that they have read and been duly shamed by her powerful memoir. But perhaps Metz’s sweetest revenge is against her dead husband – Henry always aspired to be a famous novelist, but lacked the drive and organizational skills to follow-through with his literary attempts. With ‘Perfection’ Metz has written a New York Times bestseller that is going to feature on Oprah’s book club. Ha! Oh, revenge is indeed a dish best served cold.

There is a draw back to ‘Perfection’, and that lies in the novels second half. Pace falters as Metz starts looking for scientific reasons behind Henry’s cheating and embarks on the perilous world of online dating. In the second half of the book, Metz has a sexual awakening that is fascinating and often funny to read (you can’t help but be a cheerleader for Julie, and relish her newfound liberation). But it feels like there’s a gaping hole in plot – for one thing, how did Metz come to write this memoir? What compelled her to put pen to paper and expose the worst two years of her life?

‘Perfection’ is a jarring read, guaranteed to boil your blood as you sympathize with Metz and are scandalized by her predicament. It is definitely an uncomfortable story to get through – whether you’ve been a cheater, cheated on or the ‘other woman’, or even if Metz’s story is your worst nightmare – everyone can take something from ‘Perfection’… even if it’s only to learn how to forgive, but never forget.

‘Perfection’ is so compelling because Metz lays everything on the line. There’s a big irony here, in that Metz constantly refers to herself as the shy, quiet type – an exact opposite of her late husband who was loud, exuberant and flamboyant. Yet in writing ‘Perfection’ she is opening herself up to scrutiny and pity – an incredibly courageous move… and the novel is all the more powerful for Metz’s brutal honesty.


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