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Tear You Apart - Megan Hart 4.5 stars

Kat stands quietly in front of the triple mirror, studying her reflection and smoothing the fabric of a simple satin gown in a vintage style. But when I ask her if she wants to buy it, she just shakes her head.

"No, Mom," she says. "I'm not sure about it."

"Then you shouldn't get it."

Kat, face solemn, nods. She smooths her hands down the front again, then gives me a small smile. "It's pretty, right?"

"It's beautiful, honey. Very you." I haven't checked the tag on this one, but what is money for if not to spend? "But you shouldn't settle. Not when it should be something so special. You should make sure it's what you really, really want. And even then," I say with a small laugh, "you'll probably look back on it in twenty years and wonder what on earth you were thinking."

She turns to me. "Do you?"

I think of my own wedding dress. I'd wanted to wear my grandmother's 1940s suit with its padded shoulders and peplum, the sleek skirt. My mother had talked me into a mermaid-style dress, a monstrosity of lace and satin that had never fit quite right no matter how many times we'd had it altered. I haven't looked at my wedding pictures for a long time.

"Yes. I'd have picked something different. So you should make sure," I say, looking across the room to where her sister is now twirling in front of the mirror in a fourth choice, "to pick something you really really love, at least right now, because that way even when you look back and can't believe you picked it, you'll remember how much you loved it when you did."

There are countless elements in a story that give me goosebumps, but one of my favourites is the use of allegories to drive the point home. This book had a handful of those. And they were done really, really well.

Tear You Apart is the story of Elisabeth Amblin, a forty five year old married mother of grown twins. Her girls have long moved out and her husband is constantly away on business trips and social activities with his buddies. At first it's easy to assume that she is that bored wife who is just looking for something to stir up excitement in her monotonous life, but her poor relationship with her husband has been going on for years. They continue to share a bed even though there's nothing left between them.

I don't remember the first day I resented this. I don't remember wondering why all the years I'd made the effort were not reciprocated. Nothing jumped up and bit me or slammed like a door in my face. That's not how it happens. What happens is you get married, you raise your kids, they go off to school, and you look at your spouse and wonder what on earth you're supposed to do with each other now, without all the distractions of having a family to obscure the fact that you have no idea not only who the other is, but who you are yourself.

At her work's art gallery opening in New York, she meets Will, one of the artists. She's instantly drawn to him and the heartbreaking love affair begins. There was hesitation from them both, more so from Will, because he refuses to be the reason for the breakup of a marriage, but Elisabeth assures him that whatever undefined thing they have will remain just that. It's not that simple though. If there was ever a button to turn your feelings on and off whenever appropriate it would've been easy to maintain a strictly sexual relationship, but the heart is an unreliable thing and before you know it, you're unequivocally, emotionally invested.

It's hard to judge Elisabeth when I can't imagine what it is like for her. What do you do when you realize that the love is no longer there? Would it have been easier to keep her marriage vows if she actually liked her husband instead of just tolerating him? What is it exactly that took him away from her? Or her away from him?

In no way do I feel that this book intended to romanticize infidelity. Will represented escape and possibility. It was a realistic portrayal of what I can only assume happen to many long-term couples everywhere. And for the unmarried, it gives you something to think about if you haven't entertained those questions already. Is getting married because you're in love and it's the most logical thing to do a good enough reason? Is it ambitious to look for something beyond contentment?

Reading this was a painful experience, not only because of chapters 21 and 36, but because it was as if Megan Hart took the thoughts out of my subconscious and put them into paper. There is so much raw honesty that socked me in the gut, and I feel ashamed because some truths applied to me. There was also the predominant theme of wanting what you cannot have, which may just be the most heart-shattering hurt of all.

I appreciated that Elisabeth recognized the good in her husband and made realistic choices with carefully thought out consequences. I don't think it could've ended any other way, because Will has as much at stake as Elisabeth. His fears were valid. What happens when the sexual fascination is gone? There's no other option but to choose well. I have so much respect for the course this story took and the thoughts it provoked. This was my first Megan Hart novel, but it definitely won't be my last.
...no matter what happens, I hurt. No matter what I do, there is casualty.