The tone of No Cheating, No Dying is that of a chirpy and quippy magazine article. Once the reader accepts that bargain, there is much to be gained within the pages. The sections that flow with an absorbing ease are the ones where Elizabeth Weil brings the reader close into her private life and lets us inside her emotions. She writes with finesse and interest about her privileged childhood, her town, her experiences there, and the individuality of her parents, something that not all writers are able to pull off with such aplomb.
On the whole, the book reads like a magazine article: okay, go out and be the test case for all these different ways of improving your marriage. That may have been what launched this book, but despite the forced impetus, many couples will see themselves in the prototype of Elizabeth and Dan and may even learn a few things about how to improve their marriage.
In general, Weil sticks to safe topics but she uses them fully and reaches depths of character and insight. Take, for example, her husband's culinary obsession. Not only does it offer comic relief—such as when she finds a "heritage pork belly dangling above the washer-dryer...blue with mold"—but it is also a segue into the male psychology of transitioning into parenthood (some men adopt dogs).
The thorniest issue Weil tackles is the in-law conundrum. She bravely circles it again and again and it seems as if she may be using the subject as a stand-in for all the other touchy marital tensions she avoids. This is not to say that she doesn't broach the topic of sex, but she doesn't give it the same emotional weight as the conflict between Dan and her parents. Instead, she reveals personal facts—for example, the couple's every-other-day schedule—and tells the story of the genesis of their relationship, something that must have smarted a bit since it wasn't a fairytale beginning.
Of note is the way Dan, her husband, is portrayed in the book. He reads like a child who is dodging his duties, an obsessive tyrant who isn't grateful for the fact that Weil has an amicable relationship with her parents. It's doubtful that he is as bad in reality, though she does write "I took him to be a serial obsessive, energetic, doting, manly, sensitive, a bit vain, with conventional tastes." That seems a fair assessment. However, fleshed out in Weil's colorful prose, the specifics will certainly rub many women the wrong way. Since he is also a writer and Weil admits that they read each other's drafts, he must be at peace with his characterization.
The book is well-written, well-characterized, engrossing, and as Elizabeth Gilbert wrote on the back jacket, "sometimes painfully funny, other times funnily painful."
Elizabeth Weil is a contributing writer for The New York Times Magazine, a platform she frequently uses to explore the pressing issues in her life. She has also published numerous personal essays in Vogue, Real Simple, Glamour, and other magazines. Visit her website.
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