Book Notes: Michelle Richmond’s The Marriage Pact
What’s really curious is that serious English-speaking writers have nothing to say about the global transformations we are witnessing. Even Richard Russo is stuck in the 1990s and can move ahead. If one wants to read crisis fiction in English, one has to turn to the authors of unpretentious thrillers like Tana French or Michelle Richmond.
The Marriage Pact has zero artistic value but it was written by somebody who is very aware of the costs of globalization and whose novel explores the challenges of the liquid world. The novel speaks to the anxieties of successful professionals who know that, in order to preserve their hard-won position of wealth and relevance in the fluid world, they need to shed anything that might tie them down and impede their efforts to imitate ‘the lightning-speed movement of capital.’
The only thing that can do that for members of the transnational professional elites is marriage. Marriage is, on the one hand, a marker of a high-class status that is increasingly elusive for anybody who is not succeeding in the new economy, and on the other, an obstacle to constant movement. How can one find a balance between the status that marriage confers and the problems it creates for those who want to remain part of the liquid capital’s elite?
Richmond is worried that the globalization will end up sweeping away marriage because it’s incompatible with the needs of capital. (And this is stated in the novel in pretty much these very terms.) As it is, the only durable links of human connection and interdependence that (at least some) people can rely upon are those of marriage. Take that away, and you’ll see a bunch of solitary, utterly dehumanized fanatics of work who live in lonely luxury and are completely divorced from other human beings. This will complete the dehumanization of the transnational elites, which obviously won’t be good for anybody.
These are all crucial issues and I’m stunned, just stunned that not a single serious writer in this country is picking up on such a fruitful subject.
I recommend the novel because it gives food for thought and is devoid of escapism.