Because of the way Gulliksen plays with gender roles in this book, I’ve found it important to note that this is The Story of a Marriage; not The Story of THE Marriage.
Jon and Timmy’s relationship began as a betrayal. He was already married with a child. But their love when they met was too strong to deny (yes, I’m writing that while rolling my eyes)
The book is almost pornographic in Jon’s descriptions of he and his wife’s sex lives. But I wonder if it’s more of a desperate signal, one of a husband clinging to this outrageous sex life to validate their marriage. One, also, of a husband reasserting his masculinity in a relationship in which gender roles are reversed.
His wife, nicknamed Timmy, is the main breadwinner of the family. While she works outside the home as a doctor, Jon takes great pleasure in caring for the children, doing the laundry, keeping house, and writing children’s books. While he takes a traditionally feminine role in the home, they pleasure in changing roles in the bedroom. The more aggressive, rough, and daring he is, the more they delight. They slip off for stolen moments all the time. All. The. Time.
Theirs is a long-term marriage, spanning years and children and changing employment. Jon feels Timmy’s growing sense of confinement and restlessness under his increasingly adoring gaze. He encourages her to sleep with another man. Sharing her seems a new adventure to cement their subversive sides.
When she takes him up on it, though, Jon can’t handle the jealousy. He vacillates between telling her she needs to feel free and accusing her of being flippant about their relationship.
The Story of a Marriage is a translated Norwegian book, which adds a layer of cultural complexity. I’m not educated on traditional marital and gender dynamics of Norway, so there could be some subtleties or conversations I’m not fully understanding. In my limited Googling, it appears that Norway ranks well in gender equality.
In the face of Timmy’s infidelity, Jon becomes emotional, teary, insecure, possessive, accusatory. Timmy becomes distant, enraptured in the bliss of new love.
It’s easy to see this as an indictment of open marriages, of sexual adventure, of love to the point of obsession and of breaking the gender norms to the extreme that Jon and Timmy have. Or it could be a statement on the futility of monogamy and long-term relationships.
This is where it’s important for me to delineate that this is just the story of a marriage, not of all marriages. It’s their singular, encapsulated world.
And it’s a strange world, with partners who are flippant when they should cling and clingy when they should release.
The Story of a Marriage
Published July 2018