There have been some lovely, flattering reviews of The Forever Marriage, a couple of magazine pieces, a handful of radio interviews with me. Writers have blurbed the book; readers have comments on Amazon. And I’m truly grateful, but I’m also puzzled. Because no one ever mentions the math.
I take that back, there was ONE sort of sideways reference, in the review from Library Journal:
Many times Carmen Garrett almost left her husband, Jobe, a brilliant but rather passive professor of higher mathematics. An extremely sensual person, she married him knowing they had little sexual chemistry. Not long after their honeymoon, she became pregnant and gave birth to a Down syndrome child, Luca. Two more children follow, and Carmen struggles with the sense that she’s living a “false happy life.” When Jobe dies of cancer after 21 years of marriage, Carmen thinks she will finally feel free. But widowhood and single parenthood are more complicated than she’d expected. In many ways, Carmen misses Jobe. When her lover, reference librarian Danny, finds a lump in Carmen’s breast, her own battle with cancer begins. A subplot involving Jobe’s lifelong quest to solve a mathematical theorem adds variety to this highly emotional novel. VERDICT: Bauer (A Wild Ride Up the Cupboards) deftly draws all the characters. Love or hate Carmen, readers won’t soon forget the hot-blooded woman, and fans of Elizabeth Berg will want to meet her. —Keddy Ann Outlaw
Now, I’m not complaining. I’m just really surprised. My agent and I talked more about the math and its various themes—infinity, randomness vs. order, prime numbers—than we did about, say, breast cancer, or the motherhood angle. My husband (handily, a mathematician) spent months researching the Riemann Hypothesis and breaking it down for me. At one point, I seriously considered about sending this book out under a male pseudonym on the theory that editors might be more hospitable to the raw sex and math.
To me, the mathematics—and Jobe’s way of thinking—are at the heart of this book. Math is the religious doctrine of The Forever Marriage, providing both mystery and salvation. I think of it, personally, as a very spiritual book.
Yesterday I appeared in an interview on CarolineLeavittville, the writer Caroline Leavitt’s wonderful blog. Caroline is a very successful novelist herself; in fact, her 10th book is due out soon. She’s also a screenwriter, a reviewer for PEOPLE magazine and the Boston Globe, and a wife and mother. (I think infinity may also explain her limitless productivity). She was kind enough to read my novel in the midst of a frenzied week and send me a list of really thoughtful questions. The last one was, “What question didn’t I ask that I should have?”
Well, I pounced on that.
Here was my answer to Caroline’s question, a paragraph I had to think about for 36 hours in order to get just right:
The question no one has asked is, what is the significance of the math in the novel? Why was Bernhard Riemann’s story so important? And my answer would be that I think mathematicians and physicists are really wrestling with the fundamental questions. Why are we here? What’s our purpose? How does this universe—our planet, human life—make sense? I was particularly interested in the concept of time and whether it really exists. If time is a fiction (as Einstein said) then Carmen could still go back and fix things with Jobe, maybe even fall in love with him…I wanted to create a world in which the past could be accessed and the future contained literally infinite possibilities. There is something so hopeful to me about the premise of infinity: If the numbers never stop, we have an unassailable model for “Forever.” So in Jobe’s mathematical sphere, there is no end and love is never done.
When strangers ask me to sum up my book in a single sentence, I say it’s about a woman who falls in love with her husband only after he dies. To a person, they think that sounds sad. But in my book—in my head—it’s not. Math accounts for how this can happen and why death is not necessarily the end.