Reading today's cover story in The New York Times Magazine, by Elizabeth Weil about her couples therapy with husband Daniel Duane, was for me a bit like reading a second novel by an author whose first book I loved: I want to read it—indeed, there is no chance I am not going to read it—and I hope it turns out well, but the whole situation is fraught because I will be devastated if it turns out badly. The things is, I really love Daniel Duane's writing. Let me put it this way: I am from Springfield, Massachusettes, land-locked and cold, and yet he made me enjoy reading about surfing. In fact, it would be a uncomfortably accurate to say I have a man-crush—OK, let's call it a crush—on Duane. He climbs mountains, he surfs, he cooks, he makes a living as a freelance writer, he re-built his own house, his house is in the Bay Area. What's not to love?
But could my love survive his wife's article?
The answer turns out to be yes, my love survives. But it is weakened, and will probably never return to full ardor. To judge from her article, he is a loving husband and father, but he is a serial obsessive of the kind I can't abide in person for more than about ten minutes. He mastered climbing—then surfing—then carpentry—then cooking! (What am I missing?) To know his passions through his writings is endearing; to know them through his wife's long-suffering observation is to make me realize how unlikely it is that he and I could be friends. Partly this is because of the inferiority complex all of us ineffectual, lazy non-starters have when in the presence of real doers; partly this is because of the moral valuation I find myself placing (perhaps unfairly) on anyone who would rather cook really well than order pizza and have more time to play with his kids. (Don't believe me? Read the article.)
I am not sure how to sort this all out. The issue of Daniel Duane is way too close to my face for me to see it clearly. I love his writing, envy his career, sometimes envy his life, don't envy his wife ... you get the idea.
Does this all bore you? Well, at least his books won't. Read them.