Sarah Reinhard is a Catholic wife, mom, writer, editor, marketing professional, and coffee drinker. You’re just as likely to find her hiding out back with a book as you are to discover her playing in the yard with a few farm animals (or wait — are those her kids?) She is the author of many books, the most recent of which she co-edited with Lisa Hendey: The Catholic Mom’s Prayer Companion: A Book of Daily Reflections. She blogs at SnoringScholar.com and writes online regularly at CatholicMom.com. Reinhard holds a master’s degree in marketing and communications and has worked for many years in corporate and nonprofit organizations. She lives in central Ohio with her husband and children.
Marriage is a hot topic right now, as well it should be. And I have a book that’s just what this whole conversation needs.
The Accidental Marriage: A Novel (Ignatius Press), by Roger Thomas, is a take on the issue of love that not only got my attention, but that also kept me smiling.
Here’s the set-up: Scott and Megan are friends, each in separate same-sex relationships. Megan and her lover decide to have a baby, and it’s natural to Megan that Scott be the donor. As it happens, Megan gets pregnant and her lover abandons her after some abusive acts. Scott, ever the problem-solver, comes up with a plan that involves Megan moving in and being his housekeeper.
Their friendship grows, but their life sort of falls apart in the background. In the midst of this, something happens, changes, deepens.
In a recent interview at the Ignatius Press Novels blog, Thomas said this book is not a romance, but a love story.
There are many types of love, a topic covered masterfully in the classic The Four Loves, by C.S. Lewis. Romantic love, eros, is only one of them. There are also friendship, familial love, the kind of camaraderie that’s found when people are thrown together for a purpose, such as being shipmates. In The Accidental Marriage, the foremost type of love exhibited is friendship. This leads Scott and Megan to do some interesting things, some of which aren’t normally part of a friendship, but all that arises from the assumptions they’re making about the nature of life and human relationships. But the love they have is genuine, and ends up demanding a lot from both of them, even if it doesn’t fit the cultural concept of “being in love.”
Love is misunderstood so often, so it shouldn’t be surprising that so many people misunderstand marriage. Marriage isn’t just about love the feeling: It’s about love the verb, the decision, the commitment.
Thomas explores that in this book, in part by turning so many things upside down. Throughout the story, Scott and Megan never “change” from their same-sex attraction. They are united because of mutual need and they each have to sacrifice for the other. Their friendship makes this possible in the beginning.
Unlike most modern romances, these characters aren’t out to change each other: There’s no “girl-redeeming-boy” or “man-saving-woman” motif going on. Instead, these real-life people (or that’s how they seemed as I was reading it) are stepping up and doing what needs done. Scott responds nobly. He comes up against hard times, which prompts Megan’s creativity.
The two make quite a pair, and it’s not at all easy. For one thing, there’s a kid involved. For another thing, there’s the issue of same-sex attraction.
Which, as it turns out, isn’t really an issue.
If this book does nothing else, it should remind us all that we are all human. There are no monsters here. All too often, in comboxes and in snide little corners, I see defensiveness and nasty snark happening when the conversation turns to same-sex attraction. There’s nothing redeeming about that response, and there’s nothing Christ-like on either side of the fence.
What Thomas has done — in addition to putting together some scenarios that made me laugh out loud — is humanize the face of same-sex attraction. He hasn’t said it’s okay; if anything, this book proves the opposite without being nasty about it. He has kept the dignity of the person, painted the delight of the experience of realization, and crafted a story that’s more than enjoyable.
There’s a point when Scott, in particular, starts to realize the lie he has been living:
“So here I am, thirty years old, and I don’t know how to love worth a damn. I thought I did. I thought I was all about love before I was about anything else. I loved Dustin, I loved Alex, I loved Randy, I loved Greg. But looking back, I wonder if I ever knew what it meant to love someone. Things would start off with an emotional rush, and I’d think: Here it is, this is it, I’ve found the one who completes me. It certainly added a kick [snip] but it had no root. Whatever relationship we tried to build only dried up and crumbled and blew away, leaving us with bitterness and resentment and old hurts.”
“That happens to straights too”, Megan observed.
“Damn right it does”, Scott agreed. “All the time. Remember, I lived in Nashville, home of country music. So it gets me wondering, does anyone know anything about love? Or are we doomed to these passing, flash-in-the-pan relationships?”
“I don’t know”, Megan responded. “Your care for Grace and me seems pretty loving.”
“Maybe so”, Scott acknowledged. “But does that mean that real love has to involve babies?”
“It might be better to say it involves giving,” Megan said after pondering for a minute. “If someone were to ask me how I knew you loved us, I’d point to how much you gave up for us.”
Scott nodded. “Maybe that’s a clue. I’m still trying to sort it out. I’m thinking that I know so little about terms like ‘love’ and ‘gay’ and ‘straight’ that I want to put them off to the side and not use them, so I can focus on what I do know.”
We’re not left with things tied up in a neat little box. Scott and Megan are flawed at the end, though they have an awareness of that at the end they lacked at the beginning. Their flaws don’t just stem from their sexuality, either. Thomas makes that clear, without ever condoning the action.
We are all broken. We all need mercy and grace. We all need Christ. We all have the tendency to see our disorders — or our disordered appetites — as normal or acceptable. But what’s important, what ties us together, is our identity as children of God.
This book is light years away from the preachy attitude, the “better than you” approach, the “me right, you wrong” heavy-handedness that the Church is so often characterized as taking. There is nothing being shoved down your throat as you read this book. Instead, there is the offer of perspective based in real humanity.
Do yourself a favor and read this book. It’s masterfully and powerfully written. It’s a journey from cover to cover that will leave you smiling and probably also pondering.