Books: You Say Tomato, I Say Shut Up

When we reviewed the book The Husbands and Wives Club: A Year in the Life of a Couples Therapy Group a few weeks back, we wrote: “Here are five couples who reject — albeit under the firm hand of a skilled therapist — the notion that there are only two acceptable narratives when it comes to talking about your own marriage: the long-walks-on-the-beach love story, or what [the author] calls the “resigned farce” — husbands and wives alike joking about their domestically useless/sexually burdensome/nagging spouse.”

Well, the authors of the memoir You Say Tomato, I Say Shut Up: A Love Story have reinvented the resigned farce. And because Annabelle Gurwitch and Jeff Kahn are (a) writers and comedians and (b) clearly still in love after 13 years of marriage, it works. (Okay, it mostly works: The multiple-page transcript of their attempt at marriage therapy was torturous to read, but perhaps that was the point.)

Despite the fact that this book occasionally reads like a cheesy sitcom — he wants more sex, she wants stricter rules for their kid, blah blah — these authors, like some of the couples in The Husbands and Wives Club, have come up with a new plot for marriage. Happily ever after is a fairy tale, they want you to know. Which is not breaking news, admittedly. But here is a couple willing to tell you what their “ever after” looks like so far. “Instead of saying ‘I do,’ why doesn’t everyone say ‘What the hell, I’ll give it a shot’ when they get married,” Kahn says.

In the end, the book’s weakest point is also their marriage’s selling point: The he-said-she-said format (in each chapter, they take turns telling the same story from their own perspective) feels repetitive — and it’s because they’re each smart and generous enough to let the other person’s perspective seep into their own telling. Sure, they may do this through sarcasm or self-deprecation or irony or comic exagerration, but they do it all the same. You get the feeling that either one of them could have written this book alone and you’d still be told the same basic story. Which is as good a definition of a happy marriage as we’ve ever heard.

Buy You Say Tomato, I Say Shut Up on Amazon