cover image Cleaving: The Story of a Marriage

Cleaving: The Story of a Marriage

Dennis Covington. North Point Press, $22 (213pp) ISBN 978-0-86547-548-9

Collaborating for the first time, journalist Dennis Covington (Salvation on Sand Mountain) and his novelist wife, Vicki Covington (The Last Hotel for Women), attempt to address the dangers and joys of matrimonial life. In a ""he said, she said"" format, they write of having been childhood acquaintances before marrying in their rocky, alcoholic 20s; of trying to shield their children from their marital indiscretions; and of becoming spiritually impassioned volunteer diggers of wells in Central America. Both spouses write with simple grace, providing evocative details that sum up their experiences. But while some passages are remarkably insightful about the institution of marriage, much of the book is dedicated to their individual hand-wringing over the consequences of their affairs in what they had agreed would be an open relationship. In a particularly forced analogy, Vicki writes that ""marriage is like a rain forest--it is in the understory that we struggle, fight and conceive."" In the Covington marriage, it seems, it's always monsoon season. The couple triumphs over alcoholism and infertility, but the writing of each projects an edge of narcissism and selfishness, with blame easily assigned and credit only grudgingly granted. Later, when the Covingtons yearn for spiritual enlightenment, they take up well digging, finding water on their own property and in poverty-stricken El Salvador. Both of them imbue the simple action of boring into the earth with enormous significance as they try to find not just God, but also justification for hurting their other lovers. Although the book draws some power from its confessional style, it founders as a source of wisdom about marriage. Agent, Amanda Urban. (May)