Starting in spring 2006, journalist Laurie Abraham sat in with five troubled couples as they underwent the searing process of group marriage therapy. Published as "Can This Marriage Be Saved?" the resulting article generated intense reader response. While space limitations allowed Abraham to focus only on one couple in her article, this book, which grew out of it and the reaction it inspired, tells the moving, fascinating story of all five.
Writing with the narrative dexterity of a great novelist, Abraham recounts the travails, triumphs, and reversals that beset the five couples as they work with their therapist - and each other - to find out whether they can attain the satisfaction in marriage they originally sought.
At times wrenching, at times inspiring, the sessions bring out the long-hidden resentments, misunderstandings, unmet desires, and unspoken needs that bedevil many an imperiled couple. At the same time, these encounters provide road maps to reconciliation and revival that can be used by anyone in a relationship.
Along the way, the author draws on her explorations of philosophy and literature, on Freudian theory and modern science, to decode the patterns and habits that suggest whether a troubled marriage will survive or die. The fact that the five couples are ultimately successful makes this not only an important look at the state of marital dysfunction in America today but a reaffirmation of the enduring bonds of love.
I'm a psychologist so a book like this is definitely my thing. I enjoy books that are about therapy and also ones that offer people's stories. So I had high expectations for this book but was left somewhat disappointed. None of the stories were particularly interesting which I found really surprising. I'm fascinated by the stories of every one of my clients so I find it curious that none of the five couples had very interesting stories. I'm not sure if the stories were just not interesting or whether the author simply didn't present them in a compelling way. I didn't find myself eager to know what happened with any of the characters nor did I feel any kind of connection to them (as I do for almost every other book I read).
Similarly, I didn't find her presentation of the various schools of couples therapy interesting either. Even though some of these are actually really interesting (as per my other readings of them).
I also found the author quite negative and judgmental of all of the people in the book - both the couples and the therapist. Although, to be fair, I'm not sure how much of that is attributable to the writing and how much to the narration. But she came across as being very critical and with little compassion, concern, or empathy for all of the people in the group (except, perhaps, for Rachel). How awful to be in therapy, a space that should feel really safe and free from judgment, and be judged so harshly. (The author seemed to eye roll at almost everything that anyone said.)
Oh, and speaking of Rachel, OMG the narration! I'm Australian and I completely cringed every time the narrator spoke as Rachel in what I guess she thinks an Australian accent sounds like. Oh my goodness! Rather than sounding Australian, she sounded like Eliza Doolittle before she had elocution lessons with 'En-e-ry 'Iggins! It was absurd and cracked me up every time she did her Rachel voice and had me completely lose the flow of the story. It was also odd that she did these ridiculous accents for this character and for one other (a woman with a Southern accent) but read most of the other characters in pretty much her usual voice. It would have made sense to do one or the other (although my personal preference is for narrators to use their own voice throughout rather than trying to sound like different characters which often sounds absurd, especially when trying to do a voice of the opposite gender).
All in all, the book was only kinda okay. I did listen to it all the way through so it held me enough to listen to the end. But I'm not really left with anything, no take away. Even though I only finished it today, the only thing I can really recall is that "Australian" accent!