The Arrangement: 05/01/17
The Arrangement by Sarah Dunn is set in a small Hudson Valley town — a place filled with middle class white twats — and one billionaire who likes to hit golf balls into the Hudson.
During a dinner party the subject of open marriages is brought up. Hosts Lucy and Owen balk at the idea but later in bed they decide to give it a try. The come up with rules: it will only last six months, there will be no talking about their encounters, there will be no sleeping with anyone in Beekman, there will be no leaving, and no falling in love.
The book from the very beginning sets up Owen and Lucy as NORMAL: meaning they are white, middle class, cis-gendered, straight, and monogamous. The one thing that makes the abnormal (to their frustration) is Wyatt, their autistic son.
What could have been an interesting exploration of open marriages ends up being nothing but loosely connected vignettes based around hackneyed stereotypes.
Take for instance the introduction of open marriage in the first chapter. The one gay couple in the town is the one with the open marriage. Despite the fact that they have adopted two daughters, their "sex can be just sex." (p. 9). There it is: heterosexual marriage is always about procreation and the delineation of "normal" gender roles.
The so-called open marriage that this two set up is anything but. Open marriages work through communication. While they do mention using condoms for every encounter, there's still the risk that one could infect the other without communication. They might as well be having affairs if they're not talking about it.
Meanwhile, at Wyatt's school, his kindergarten teacher has come out as transgender. This turn in the plot is announced by Wyatt, "'Mr. Lowell is now Mrs. Lowell.'" (p.55). This announcement is repeated for the next two pages, thus driving home two concepts: transitioning is weird and and autism is also weird. Maybe putting the two together will be funny! Or witty. It's neither.
Throughout all of this mess there is the repeated theme that white middle class heterosexual marriage is normal. Open Marriages — or polyamory (a term not used in the book) is abnormal. This type of marriage is also doomed to tragedy — unhappiness, unfulfilling lives. But it's what normal people do.
For all this waving of the normality flag, I found nothing normal about either of them. Nor did I find anything about their "normalcy" desirable. I found the entire experience an exasperating waste of time.
Comment #1: Wednesday, May 03, 2017 at 14:01:52
Ugh I hate stereotypes! too bad! Open marriages would have indeed been a great topic to explore.
Comment #2: Wednesday, May 03, 2017 at 18:23:00
It was such a missed opportunity.