Jay Ponteri’s new Hawthorne Books memoir, Wedlocked, was born from what he describes as a “Grand Canyon” sized rough patch in his marriage. It is his deeply private look at loneliness and failure within an American marriage and, as he considers the broader context, “our culture’s collective ubiquitous silence around this essential, mysterious aspect of our lives.” Here, Ponteri introduces himself and his book to NWBookLovers.
Wedlocked arose out of the blooming failure of my marriage. Around 2004, as my feelings of loneliness accumulated to intolerable levels, I felt an urgent need to know how other men dealt with marital loneliness, which, for me, manifested in a tremendous desire for The Other Woman, and in secret behavior, and in isolation from actual and ordinary things, e.g., my wife and son, my job, my friends. None of my male friends were married at that time, and my older brothers and I didn’t speak so intimately about our lives.
And I couldn’t find the revelation I needed in the books on my shelves. (In the coming years I would discover Cyril Connolly’s The Unquiet Grave, Leonard Michaels‘ Shuffle, Adam Phillips’s slim gem Monogamy, Montaigne’s essay “On some verses of Virgil,” among others.) I read a lot of fine fiction dramatizing marital conflict (e.g., Desperate Characters by Paula Fox, Light Years by James Salter, Revolutionary Road by Richard Yates and stories by Alice Munro, John Cheever, and Anton Chekhov), but I needed something actual and more directly interior. I wanted to know if another actual man thought what I thought. I wanted to feel visible, I wanted to stop walking around a human secret. I ended up writing the book I needed to read.
My memoir differs from others in that my consideration happened alongside my faltering marriage. A conversation might happen with my wife, or even a stirring instance of interiority, and the next morning I’d bring it to my writing for consideration. In this way, my writing was not so much about healing or empowering myself (very very suspicious of that tired phrase) through the recollection of events long in the past. The writing was an agitation of memory (John D’Agata‘s phrase), was me working through something I couldn’t name or if I did name it, it only seemed to point the way towards further isolation, self-shaming, and inevitable separation from my family. And because I couldn’t share any of this with my wife, writing was another way for me to fuck things up.
And yet the writing was (still is) a place for me to set aside my fear of failure, to speak without self-censorship, to feel what I feel (and felt) without holding anything back—this directly opposing the way I lived in my marriage where it felt as if I were holding back everything. The page felt charged with sparkly possibility. Now the book is no longer mine, the book is yours. I hope you read it and I hope it makes you feel less lonely. I hope you speak with me (to me) into the hard frost of silence.
What may surprise readers of Wedlocked is that I am still married to my wife and our marriage is better, our marriage is now, years later, a good marriage—although we wouldn’t be where we are if, one, she wasn’t a hugely compassionate and beautifully forgiving woman, and two, if I hadn’t fully considered the particular way I was FAILING in my marriage. I fail in this life. I’m a human being and I fail and I try to do better. I’m not afraid to say that. Say it with me; I fail in this life, I try to do better. That’s what this book is about. Regard it as something seen momentarily…
Jay Ponteri lives in Portland with his wife and son. He is the director of the undergraduate creative writing program at Marylhurst University. He is the founding editor of both the online literary magazine M Review and HABIT Books. His work has appeared in Tin House, Puerto Del Sol and Seattle Review. Ponteri’s chapbook of short prose, Darkmouth Strikes Again, will be published by Future Tense Books in the summer of 2013.