A Year by the Sea

An Unfinished Marriage
by Joan Anderson

Broadway Books, 2000. ISBN 0767905938.
Broadway Books, 2002. ISBN 0767908716.
Reviewed by Janet Caplan
Posted on 12/15/2006

Nonfiction: Memoir; Nonfiction: Relationships

I first encountered Joan Anderson's writing with her book entitled A Walk on the Beach; a book that dealt with her journey of self-discovery through a student/mentor relationship with Joan Erikson. It was the third in Anderson's trilogy dealing with life and relationship changes and the one that led me to A Year by the Sea and An Unfinished Marriage.

A Year by the Sea follows Anderson during her year alone at her family's cottage on Cape Cod; a place to which she retreated when she chose not to accompany her husband after he accepted a new job out-of-state. It was here that she hoped to put the pieces of herself back together, pieces that she felt she had set aside while raising a family, maintaining a home and keeping her marriage alive. Feeling frustrated and stagnant, Joan sees this year as an opportunity to re-evaluate and re-invigorate her own life, i.e. the life of Joan Anderson herself, not in her role as wife, mother or home manager. "I need to stop this incessant chatter and work up an appetite for just being," Joan writes.

The book is broken down into monthly accounts of observation and progress. Both through need and desire, Joan attempts new types of work and places herself into unfamiliar social situations; all growth experiences. She rediscovers herself as a capable and adaptable individual. She finds her footing once again. The few visits that she shares with her husband and sons underscore her metamorphosis; they see her as someone willing to take risks and as a woman who has regained herself. In the end, Joan and her husband find a place to start again: "We have endured, it would seem. A year ago in anger and despair I would have eagerly reached for divorce. But lethargy and exhaustion prevailed. Separation and solitude have healed us. It wasn't the marriage that needed to be terminated, rather the rote way in which we were existing within its walls."

That endurance and reunion brought forth the second book in Anderson's trilogy, An Unfinished Marriage. It chronicles the slow but steady work that both Joan and her husband, Robin, put into re-making their marriage; recognizing mutual needs for separation and togetherness, each others' vulnerabilities and strengths. There are numerous bumps along their new road together but that is the point that she makes here—it is a new road—one that comes from changes that they must see and value in themselves and each other. Robin learns what Joan has already discovered; neither is the same person who entered their thirty plus year marriage. It is not just self-discovery that needs to be ongoing but rediscovery of each other as well.

I enjoyed these books, as I did A Walk on the Beach. It's all food for thought and certainly there are echoes in these pages for a good number of people living in long-standing relationships. The messages offered are positive and I think useful in that they provide new and fresh approaches to what may need just a bit of rejuvenation.

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