Saturday, October 13, 2012

The Chaos Theory of Marriage: Brand New Human Being by Emily Jeanne Miller

Brand New Human Being
by Emily Jeanne Miller
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Guest review by Andrea Kinnear

Most marriages follow one path, one set of deliberate decisions that must be followed to guarantee the success and sanctity of marriage.  It is this one true path that is traversable, seemingly, only in the ideal.  I have yet to witness a married couple actually staying on said path throughout their marriage.  One single, minuscule misstep takes the spouse off the yellow brick road to marital Oz and into the clutches of the flying monkeys.  Some couples, like Dorothy and her companions, survive the seemingly impossible obstacles to find their way home; many do not.

Like the proverbial butterfly flapping its wings in China and causing Hurricane Andrew to devastate Miami, relationships have their own Chaos Theory.  One millimeter five degrees to the left, repeated five hundred times, can send a marriage into divorce court with contested custody.  Where did the collective “we” go wrong?  It was the scowl over breakfast ten years ago that yielded my offense, that drew your derogatory response, that raised my voice, that…  Each comment ups the ante, and when the process repeats over years, the hurt and damage amplify.

Meet Logan and Julie Pyle in Brand New Human Being, the debut novel by Emily Jeanne Miller.  These two virtually prove Marital Chaos Theory:  a series of seemingly small decisions--a moment here, a habit there, a reaction to this--drive the spouses very distantly off course.  Add in some significant stressful life events, a first-born child, a death of a family member, a demanding career, and the course appears uncorrectable.  I spent the first two hundred pages beating my head against the book.  I silently screamed, “No, no, no!” every time Logan or Julie spoke a word.

The struggles in the Pyle marriage are very real, very plausible, and in some ways very terrifying.  The Pyles are the poster children for every marriage as they expose thousands of impulse decisions that can easily lead to disaster.  Miller takes their marital chaos and makes a powerful case for course correction, even after a ravaging storm.  In her book, she provides a fresh landscape for nearly universal marital and parental struggles.  I found myself disturbed, angered, and ultimately inspired by the characters in her swift and accessible Brand New Human Being.

My range of emotion grew from my identification with wife and mother, Julie Pyle.  How many times have I placed the kids above the marriage?  The scientific answer is TNTC = too numerable to count.  How many times have I made a major decision about the children without consulting my husband?  Well, maybe not as frequently as the former question, but the answer is somewhere close to, but less than, countless.  How many times has my husband very courageously called me out on my maternal myopia?  Well, the numbers dramatically shrink to an N of 2.  (And I can assure you the, ahem, conversations, were so civil as to deter their repetition.)   Maternal myopia is so attractive, so instinctive, so easy.  I won’t draft the opposing paragraph in my husband’s voice, but my confidence is high that he would say his life, like that of Logan Pyle, is “nothing like I thought it would be.”

But before the graph spikes over Julie’s name, Brand New Human Being highlights the significance of the number 2.  Marriage is a set with no fewer, no more, than two.  Two people take a vow, and only two people can dissolve the union.   Two people conceive a child, and optimally, two parents raise this human being.  When the graph of either the marriage or the parenting negatively slopes, only two people, working from a union of previously disparate sets, can change the equation of the line.  What is important to note, is that this equation can be changed – even in the presence of a brand new human being.

Andrea Kinnear is a math aficionado and avid bibliophile.  She blogs about equations and books at Faulkner 2 Fibonacci.

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