I'm not much for stories of adultery and divorce. It's an offensive topic in the first place, and usually treated sentimentally, which is worse. It's not only that, but the way we acquiesce to the culture's assumptions about the more petty expectations of spouses and how not living up to them is grounds for abandonment. How often justifications are parroted across the social circles of those with marital problems. We reserve unconditional love for children, and not always for them. I must add the usual disclaimers, because there are good reasons for setting limits, even with those we are bound to. Still, love is something other than the light-switch feeling we usually assign to it.
I once taught a night literature course to a class full of divorcees, some wronged in ugly ways, and no author was harder to approach than our almost-contemporary Updike, who, though or because he had been divorced himself, was so straight about the cruelty of our most intimate relationships.
The 2004 award-winning film We Don't Live Here Anymore (on Netflix instant play) is based on short stories by Andre Dubus, a lesser-known Catholic writer, and it's one of the few films that I've watched more than once. Dubus himself had quite a tragic life. His daughter was raped, causing him much anguish. And later, while assisting two motorists, he was himself hit by another car and disabled for life. His third wife left him after his injury. Through tragedy, his faith flourished.
The story is an impossible tangle: two young couples with children, old friends, become enmeshed with each other. For three of them, it is a crisis that begs for a true resolution; the duplicity is unendurable. The fourth, a young writer, has no truth but himself. His insouciance is the sinister and irredeemable piece.
The character Terry, a hapless housewife who drinks too much, recognizes that there must be something more than performance attached to the promise. She insists on the meaning of the union, beyond the betrayals.
You say, "You are what you do"? Who really believes that? I mean, what does that mean? Does that mean I'm a cook, an errand runner, a fucker, a goddamn cleaning lady? Because if you, you bastard, lost all discipline and folded up, and turned drunk and got bald and lost everything, I'd love you. I love you. You, Jack.