MARGARET WARNER: Finally tonight, a book conversation, and to Ray Suarez.
RAY SUAREZ: The book is "Marriage: A Duet." It consists of two novellas. The first published fiction by news essayist Anne Taylor Fleming. The threat that bind the story are marriage and infidelity. And Anne Taylor Fleming, the two couples singing these duets, when we first meet them, aren't singing very harmoniously.
ANNE TAYLOR FLEMING: Well, no. The first one is about 50s era wife, Caroline, sit beside the death bed of her husband in a hospital and reliving her very long marriage, and part of the memories are glorious. She's been deeply blissfully married. But what she's also remembering is an incident is an department of infidelity about 20 years in when he fell seriously in love with a younger woman. I like to think it is a braid of sorrow and joy but there is pain. I think that as a novice fiction writer, I see what draws me is kind of the damage we do to love. After I finished the first one, I wrote Short. I knew hi to write a companion, and I had the in the back of my head a sort of reverse story where it's a much more current marriage but it is the wife who has the affair and how the man adjusts and how in both cases the marriages endure.
RAY SUAREZ: With that endurance there, seems to be very little sense of accomplishment or triumph that the two couples held it together, are holding it together when so many others don't.
ANNE TAYLOR FLEMING: Oh, I think oh, Ray, I think in their souls there is, but I do think that the incidents of fidelity have scarred the heart and I think the marriage... there is a sense of triumph in the endurance but at cost. One of the things that I think happened in the first one, in the 50s era -- one of the things I rather like about the first one and I mean these are unconscious decisions you make as a novelist, is that it was a very passionate, very erotic marriage. We have the idea of 50s era marriages being sort of placid and not free wheeling. But she never again, the wife after the infidelity, recaptures shall we say, that lustful joyous delirious longing because it's been damaged. But I do think there is a sense of triumph too soon strong a word, but pleasure perhaps in a very muted sense, that they have gone forward and grown old together.
RAY SUAREZ: I got a strong sense when reading about these two couples, that there was a realization on both their parts that there was a marriage, this thing, this edifice, there's me, there's you and there's our marriage, like a third personality.
ANNE TAYLOR FLEMING: Yeah. It's interesting. I have been married 30 years, and I think that that's true. I think of it that way. I hadn't thought of it again consciously, but when you say it that seems to be write. I think marriage is the most amazing institutions. You sign on at a fairly young age, the people in my book do, I did. You are supposed to stay with that person, honor them, presumably not hurt them or certainly not cheat on them. And it's a long, complicated nuanced dance we do. I mean there is nothing like marriage. It is really marriage I wanted to write about much more than the infidelity. I wanted to try to capture the nuance of a long marriage and then of course the infidelity which is the most painful thing that can happen to a lock good marriage. I didn't want to write dysfunctional characters, things thrown against the wall. I wanted to write about marriages like the ones I know and people I know.
RAY SUAREZ: Is it a daunting thing to write about marriages? Some of the most well worn territory in the history of the world. Everybody who is married thinks they know a lot about it already before they read one page of what you have to say.
ANNE TAYLOR FLEMING: It's a very good point. As a fiction writer what you say or really as a writer, it's your serer to. It's new-- it's your territory -- 30 years ago when I first started thinking about writing a novel and didn't do it then for all kinds of reasons. One also I wanted to make a writer-- make a living as a writer so I went into journalism. And I thought when I get around to it, I'll write about marriage. Marriage is the most combustive complicated thing. It is much more powerful and deep than an affair or a quickie romance. It contains so many emotions as everybody who has been married knows. But you are not daunted. You go forward. A lot of stuff that we all write about, other people have written about as somebody once said to me. If you haven't written about it, it hasn't been written about the way you are going to write about it.
RAY SUAREZ: What kind of reactions have been getting from the married, formerly married, unmarried people who have been reading this book?
ANNE TAYLOR FLEMING: Very passionate. It has been fascinating to me. My friends both have argued about the characters in the book I had the most amazing experience with my friends and they were discussing it as if I were out of the room. They were arguing about the decision the wife made in the first one or the husband made in the second one. I've also had people wanting to me about their own marriages. Call-in talk shows people wanting to unburden their hearts. Men have responded as strongly and been as interested in talking to me about issues in their marriage or survival of their marriage as women. And that's been really... it's been gratifying. You don't think about that when you write -- you don't think about who is going to respond but in the aftermath, it has been very gratifying.
RAY SUAREZ: Let's talk a little bit about men because in the second book, it's really the interior life of a man who is trying to cope with the short lived infidelity of his wife and doesn't seem to be able to pull out of this spiral he is in.
ANNE TAYLOR FLEMING: Again, looking back, I kind of have always believed there is this theory that men are from one planet and women are from another. That's been widely touted over the last stretch of years. I don't think I believe that in my conscious frame. I mean, this is a man who is as deeply married, as passionately in love with his wife and as passionately in love with the idea of his marriage as the wife in the first one. And when his wife has a quickie one-night stand, it shatters his whole sense of the ground underneath his feet. He hangs on to it; he hangs on to the grief. There is not a quickie get over. I did write they go off to the therapist -- hands up on anti-depressants. He does all of the trendy sort of cure-alls for a broken heart, and they don't work because in some ways, he's stubbornly, if some people might think a little stupidly, honors the grief and the sense of loss.
RAY SUAREZ: Well, there has been a lot of discussion in recent years about whether marriage is in trouble. Do you have a different feel for that now than you did before you started to write?
ANNE TAYLOR FLEMING: That's a very good question. I don't think majority is in trouble. I think one of the things, not to get too current but certainly after 9/11, one of the things that we all talked about was the enduring deep, long relationships, marriage being primary among them. Who can forget those last phone calls, you know. Those are searing for all of us. I don't think marriage is in trouble. I think though that maybe what we are getting to, and I like to think I put on paper, a much more realistic idea of how complicated and nuanced and difficult it can be, even if it endures and even if it is good and even if it is loving and all the things we might want. Things happen to people and people hurt each other -- even people who love each other. I think marriage is a great topic, both for fiction and currently it's a big topic for non-fiction.
RAY SUAREZ: The book is "Marriage: A duet." Anne Taylor Fleming, great to see you.
ANNE TAYLOR FLEMING: Thank you.