A Review of Joey Franklin’s My Wife Wants You to Know I’m Happily Married
December 22, 2015 § 3 Comments
By William Bradley,
As I type this review on the Sunday before Christmas, I realize it’s probably unlikely that it will be published on The Brevity Blog before Friday. That’s too bad—Joey Franklin’s My Wife Wants You to Know I’m Happily Married would make a perfect gift for just about any literate person on your Christmas list. In this collection of essays, Franklin comes across as an affable and reflective person, and I have a hard time imagining that there are people out there who might not like this book.
I have only myself to blame for this review being posted so late in the holiday season—Dinty W. Moore proposed that I write this review back in October, and the review copy arrived at my house in the first week of November. But there is always an excuse to not read, right? For me, it had to do with my job as a local government reporter for a small newspaper—we had the November election, and then election follow-up, and then year-end city council and county commissioner meetings where budgets were debated and established. If this paragraph bores you so far, just imagine how tedious it was to live it. I would frequently finish writing my articles at around 11 p.m., then crawl into bed, look at Franklin’s book on my nightstand, and think, “Tomorrow, Joey. I promise” before turning off the lamp.
But then a funny thing happened. I actually started reading the book. People often compliment good writing by saying “I couldn’t put it down.” That wasn’t my response to these essays. In fact, I frequently did put the book down in order to think about what I had just read. The best of these essays—and I think three or four of them are so excellent they’re all jockeying for “the best” designation—practically compel the reader to reflect on them.
I admit, I’m an easy mark for essays about marriage and love and stuff like that. Like Franklin, I write about my relationship with my wife quite a bit. But I don’t think the issue here is just “I could relate to this book,” as some of my former students might have said. In fact, I don’t relate to a great deal of this book. For example, Franklin writes of his first kiss with the woman who would become his wife: “Five months we’d been dating, and I hadn’t kissed her yet…” When I read that sentence, I thought, “Wow—I wasn’t sure Emily and I were even officially dating until we’d had sex at least a dozen times.”
But frankly, the phenomenon of “relating” to a work of art is grossly overrated—it suggests that the purpose of art is to reflect our own experiences and biases back at us rather than challenge us and expose us to new ways of thinking about and being in the world. So though I do not “relate” to all of Joey Franklin’s ideas and experiences, they resonate within me deeply, because he renders them with such eloquence and beauty. Seriously—I challenge any of you reading this to take in his essay “In Their Ears and On Their Tongues” and not find yourself moved by his reflections on culture, sharing faith, facing disappointment, but finding a type of strength in faith regardless. I suspect even Richard Dawkins and the late Christopher Hitchens—both outspoken atheists—would read this essay and have to concede, “Yeah, that’s just astonishingly beautiful.”
So it’s 11:20 on Sunday morning right now. I’m going to email this review to Dinty and hope that it reaches you before you have finished your holiday shopping, as unlikely as that may be. But look, even if you wind up reading this on December 28th, you probably have someone you forgot to buy a gift for, right? Or maybe someone who surprised you with a gift, who you now feel like you are obligated to purchase something for, maybe with an awkward, apologetic lie like, “I ordered this weeks ago, but, you know, damn post office.” I propose that this book should be that gift. No doubt, Joey Franklin—man of faith, Boy Scout leader, devoted husband and father, and all around decent guy—wouldn’t tell such a lie himself (he takes a particularly strong stand about the importance of honesty in nonfiction writing in this collection’s title essay), but I won’t tell if you don’t.
William Bradley procrastinates.