“A complex and captivating tale” (The Boston Globe) which takes an engrossing look at the darker side of a marriage—and at how an ordinary family responds to an extraordinary crisis, forcing a couple to decide when a marriage is too broken to fix.
Maddy, a social worker, is trying to balance her career and three children, but her husband’s verbal furies have made the family wary and frightened. Where once his fiery passion had been reserved for defending his clients, now he’s lashing out at all of them. She vacillates between tiptoeing around him and asserting herself for the sake of their kids—keeping a fragile peace—until the rainy day when they’re together in the car and Ben’s volatile temper gets the best of him, leaving Maddy in the hospital fighting for her life.
Randy Susan Meyers takes us inside the hearts and minds of her characters, alternating among the perspectives of Maddy, Ben, and their fourteen-year-old daughter, Emma. A People magazine Book Pick, Accidents of Marriage is a “beautifully written, poignant, and thought-provoking novel” (Kirkus Reviews, starred review) that will resonate deeply with women from all walks of life, ultimately revealing the challenges of family, faith, and forgiveness.
|Publisher:||Washington Square Press|
|Product dimensions:||8.20(w) x 5.30(h) x 1.00(d)|
About the Author
Randy Susan Meyers is the bestselling author of Waisted, Accidents of Marriage, The Comfort of Lies, The Murderer’s Daughters, and The Widow of Wall Street. Her books have twice been finalists for the Mass Book Award and named “Must Read Books” by the Massachusetts Center for the Book. She lives with her husband in Boston, where she teaches writing at the Grub Street Writers’ Center.
Read an Excerpt
Accidents of Marriage
Maddy ran her tongue over her teeth, imagining the bitter taste of a crumbling tablet of Xanax. After a gut-wrenching day at the hospital nothing tempted her more than a chemical vacation. Nothing appealed to her less than cooking supper. Churning stomach acid—courtesy of work—coupled with anxiety that Ben might come home as frenzied as he’d left made a formidable appetite killer.
She could bottle it and make a fortune.
Each morning she spun the wheel on the Ben chart, hoping the arrow would hit happy husband, or at least neutral guy. Today his arrow landed on total bastard, holding her personally responsible for Caleb’s tantrum, which—oh, horror!—had cost Ben twenty minutes of work.
She considered taking a pill, but the rites of family happiness demanded her attention. Gracie and Caleb sprawled on the rug, recovering from their day at camp: seven-year-old Caleb, half asleep, rubbing his cheek with his thumb; nine-year-old Gracie’s glazed eyes fixed on the television. Emma, her oldest, a day camp counselor at fourteen, would be home soon.
Sluggish inertia kept Maddy stapled to the couch despite her long list of waiting tasks. Chop vegetables, pay the mortgage, and catch up on laundry before the kids ran out of socks. Find a stamp somewhere in the mess she called her desk so she could mail the electric bill. Give her children feelings of self-worth. Plus, since she and Ben had fought that morning, he’d need soothing. Fellatio came to mind.
Indestructible fabric, the sort bought by parents with children prone to transferring their sticky snacks to the upholstery, prickled against her bare arms. She lusted for air-conditioning as she’d once longed for peace, justice, and her husband. Each suffocating Boston summer in their badly wired Victorian became more hateful and Ben’s warnings about global warming swayed her less. According to Ben, her environmental ethics turned situational with each drop of perspiration.
Pressing the small of her back didn’t ease the permanent knot lodged deep and low, nor did shoving a small hard pillow against it. Her stomach growled despite her lack of desire for food.
Fish sticks would be easy, but she couldn’t bear turning on the oven.
The back door slammed. Emma banged her backpack on the table. Her daughter’s way of saying I’m home.
Maddy struggled up from the couch and headed toward the kitchen. “Just making sure it’s you.”
“Were you expecting someone else?” she asked.
“It could have been Daddy.”
“Right.” What an all-purpose word right had become in their family, their polite way of saying, I am acknowledging you have spoken, but am choosing not to engage in any meaningful way. Lately, they used it all too often.
Newspapers they’d tried to read at breakfast covered half the table. Emma stared into the refrigerator as Maddy gathered the papers, unsure whether to recycle them. Had Ben finished reading the Boston Globe? The New York Times?
“There’s nothing to eat,” Emma said. “In Caro’s house—”
The sound of breaking glass followed by Caleb’s scream interrupted before Emma could specify just how superior a shopper Caro’s mother was.
“Mom!” Gracie yelled. “Come here!”
Emma followed as Maddy ran to the living room.
“Jesus, what happened?” Maddy crouched next to Caleb, her stomach dropping at the sight of blood pouring from his foot. Shards of glass surrounded him, liquid droplets of milk clinging to the pieces, a larger white puddle pooling on the wooden floor. She grabbed a wadded-up napkin to staunch the blood, crouching awkwardly to avoid cutting her knees.
Gracie’s mouth trembled. “I just got up, that’s all, and I knocked over his milk glass. He got mad and screamed, then he stood up and kicked the glass and it broke. He stepped on it. It wasn’t my fault!”
“It’s okay, Gracie.” Blood soaked through the napkin, dissolving the paper as she exerted pressure. “Emma, get me a damp towel.”
This was preventable, Ben would say. This is why we have plastic glasses.
“Make it stop, Mommy!” Tears cut through the dirt on Caleb’s cheeks.
She pressed harder. Gracie mopped the spilled milk with a dirty T-shirt from her backpack.
“Here.” Emma held out a dripping kitchen towel.
“You need to wring it out, Emma. Never mind, just get a clean one.”
Emma stomped out with Gracie in her wake. Wet cloth slapped in the sink.
“Give this to Mom.” Emma’s voice from the kitchen was extra loud.
Using the hem of her black cotton skirt, Maddy covered the napkin. Gracie returned with a new towel. Emma watched from the doorway, twirling the bottom of her long brown braid.
Maddy peeled away her skirt and replaced it with the towel, Caleb whimpering. “Do I have to go to the doctor?” He squinted as she peeked under the towel.
“It doesn’t look too deep, but it has to be cleaned,” she said. “I don’t think we need a doctor.” Maddy’s pulse calmed. She stopped rushing ahead in her mind: wrapping Caleb’s foot safely enough to hold in the bleeding until they got to the emergency room, packing the kids in the car, calling Ben. She looked again—making sure her decision was based on wisdom and not wishful thinking. It wasn’t gaping. The bleeding had slowed.
He tried to pull his foot away. “No! No cleaning. It’ll hurt.”
Emma squatted next to them. “You let Mom wash out the cut and I’ll play Monopoly.” Caleb’s smile came through like a sun shower.
“That’s sweet, honey.” Maddy should appreciate Emma’s goodness and stop losing patience with her sulks and eye rolling. “Thank you.”
“Can I play?” Gracie asked.
“No,” said Caleb. “Just me and Emma.”
Gracie’s lip quivered at her brother’s words, leaving Maddy torn between soothing and yelling Stop it, especially when she saw Gracie make the tiny sign of the cross she’d picked up from Grandma Frances, Ben’s mother, a woman given to reflexive ritual blessings. Gracie’s gesture unsettled Maddy. Next thing she knew, her daughter would be genuflecting at Our Lady of the Virgins. Buying her a Jewish star or a Unitarian flaming chalice, before Grandma Frances hung a crucifix over Gracie’s bed, went on her to-do list. Mixed marriage only went so far.
“Monopoly is better with more people, Caleb.” Pregnant women should be required to take classes in referee and negotiation skills along with breathing and panting lessons.
“No. I only want to play with Emma.”
Gracie pulled at her camp-grimy toes. “How about you and I make chocolate sauce while they play?” Maddy suggested. “We could have hot fudge sundaes for supper.”
“Ice cream for supper?” Gracie raised her chin off her knees.
“Why not?” She pushed back her daughter’s sweaty black curls, the only visible part of Maddy that Gracie had inherited. The kids divided their parents’ parts and shared few: Skinny Caleb had Ben’s thick brown hair, Maddy’s long lashes and narrow shoulders. Poor Gracie, like Ben, would have to fight a tendency toward getting thick in the middle. Emma, wiry like Maddy, had her father’s sharp cheekbones.
Emma rolled her eyes. “Healthy, Mom.”
“Shut up, Emma,” Caleb said.
“You shut up. Or I won’t play with you.”
“I’ll play,” Gracie said.
“No. Emma picked me. Wash my cut, Mommy.”
• • •
A child leaned on either shoulder. With feet propped on the coffee table, Maddy drifted in and out of sleep. Dirty bowls decorated with blobs of hardened fudge littered the room. After cresting to a quick high of giggles over supper, they’d slumped into queasy sugar comas.
They stirred at the sound effects of Ben’s nightly return: the car rolling on gravel. Scrape of heat-swollen door opening. Keys dropping on the hall table. Briefcase thudding to the floor. Sighs of relief or disgust indicated his mood level. Despite their early-morning fight, Ben sounded audibly benign. Thank God. Maybe it would be a Swiss night, with the living room their first neutral zone.
Ben entered the living room and surveyed their collapsed bodies and the scattered Monopoly pieces. Gracie pulled away and ran to him, throwing her hands around his waist. He stroked her black ringlets into a little bundle at the back of her head as she leaned into his slightly softening middle. He had the body of a forty-three-year-old man who fought gravity by playing handball twice a week, but who’d given up crunches. Not bad, but unlike Maddy, who ran and used free weights and the rowing machine in their basement, his battle against time brought fewer visible rewards.
“What happened?” he asked. “It looks like a war zone.”
“We had some excitement. Our boy cut himself.”
Caleb held out his bandage-swathed foot while still staring at the television.
“You okay?” Ben asked. He gave Gracie one last pat and went to the couch. “Hurt much?”
Caleb shrugged. “I guess. A little.” He studied Maddy as though seeking the right answer.
Ben laid a hand on Caleb’s calf. “Can you walk on it?”
“Sorta. I hop on my heel on that side.”
“It’s on the ball of his foot. The inside,” Maddy said.
“How’d it happen?” Ben tugged on his chin—his poker tell that steam could build at any moment.
Maddy leaned over Caleb and kissed her husband, hitting the side of his mouth he offered. “Forgetting anything?” she asked. “Hello, Maddy? How are you?”
He exhaled. “Don’t start. I’ve had a rough day.”
Kissing was starting? It is when you’re being sarcastic, she answered herself, using Ben’s lecture voice. “He fell asleep and then got up without remembering there was a milk glass next to him. It was an accident.” She knew the lie was barely plausible, but she also knew it was just enough for him to avoid being prosecutorial.
“Where was he sleeping? The recycle bin?”
“Very funny. A glass broke. End of story.” There. The truth snuck in.
“Why can’t the kids eat and drink at the table like they’re supposed to? Why weren’t they using plastic glasses?” He ran his hands through his hair. “Look at this place. It’s a mess. No wonder everyone’s always having accidents.”
Caleb rubbed his thumb back and forth across his knee. Gracie crossed herself.
“Not now, okay? Please.” She sent him a significant look.
Ben flexed his shoulders, leaned back on the couch, and stared at the ceiling. He took a deep breath, seeming to remember the anger management sheet Maddy had forced on him six months ago, after he’d thrown a shoe. At the wall, he insisted each time she mentioned the incident. Not at you. But her message had landed. For once, she’d broken through his endless rejections of her careful observations about his temper.
Good thing. She’d gritted her teeth through his rages, but she’d be damned if their house became a physical battleground. He’d scared himself when he’d thrown the shoe—just as he had years before when he’d thrown a bottle of detergent against the wall. The difference was this time he’d listened to her. He’d read the sheet despite hating it when she supposedly social-worked him. Save it for your clients, he’d yell when she deconstructed him. The children. Their marriage. You’re not my shrink, you’re my wife.
If he didn’t want her to social-work him, then she sure wished he’d learn to manage his own moods. Maddy’s sister insisted that one day it would be too late for anger prevention sheets and other tricks. Vanessa had no patience for Ben’s rages, but Maddy blamed herself for the antagonism her family felt toward Ben. Maddy overshared. Everything negative, anyway. When had she last called her sister to say things were going great? To brag about Ben taking an entire day to make sure Gracie could ride her bike safely? How often did she mention that Ben took the kids to the movies while she went for a massage?
At least her mother pretended to love Ben. For which Maddy was grateful.
“We had ice cream for supper,” Caleb announced.
Emma’s shoulders squared. Gracie pressed into Maddy.
Ben turned to Caleb. “Ice cream?”
“With hot fudge,” Caleb added.
“Nice to be rewarded for breaking a glass, huh?” Ben kicked off his shoes. “Since I haven’t fallen or broken anything, what do I get for supper?”
Emma jumped up. “Should I make you eggs, Dad?”
“Thank you, honey. That would be terrific.” He leaned back and closed his eyes.
Gracie tapped his forehead. He blinked and gave her a tired smile. “What is it, cupcake?”
“Want me to cut up carrots for you?”
Maddy grabbed the laundry basket from where she’d dropped it in the corner of the living room and hurried out before she had to witness the girls wait on Ben. It drove her crazy watching them being trained in the fine art of placating an angry man, but try explaining that one. What, a child couldn’t feed a hungry father?
After throwing in a white wash and rummaging through the crowded shelves for fabric softener, she dragged over a small dusty step stool and climbed up, stretching to reach behind the jumble of cleaning supplies. She pulled out a dusty Baggie that held a few tablets, took out a yellow one, bit off half, and swallowed it dry. Sometimes she wondered if she could remember all of her caches. Keeping them scattered around the house gave her a convoluted sense of peace and safety. She might reach for one pill in a week; she might reach in every day. Either way, knowing that they were never more than a few steps away comforted her.
• • •
Back in the kitchen, remnants of Ben’s eggs and carrots littered the countertop. She cleared the debris to one side to make sandwiches for the kids’ lunch boxes. Trying to spread cold peanut butter made her hate Ben’s mother. Frances had spent the past forty-six years appeasing Ben’s father’s neuroses by keeping a spotless house and refrigerating peanut butter, on constant guard against food poisoning, bacteria, and dust.
Because of Frances, they ate hard peanut butter.
The bread tore. She folded it around the wad of Skippy and shoved it in her mouth. Then she got a fresh slice and began making the sandwiches again: grape jelly for Caleb, blueberry for Gracie, and for Emma, Maddy’s mother’s homemade orange preserves.
Anger exhausted her. She waited for the kiss of Xanax to kick in, Prince Charming bearing a sheath for her nerves.
Ben hadn’t cared if they ate hot mayonnaise and slept on typhus-encrusted sheets when they’d met, not while they burned off the searing heat of their early years. He’d been exciting, her Ben, a public defense lawyer demanding the world give his wrecked clients a break—a little justice, a fair shot. She could barely breathe around him, some part of her always needing to touch some part of him. Her hand on his shoulder. An ankle casually leaning against his calf.
Ben dwarfed everyone, racing through life with exclamation points coming out all sides. Poverty to the right? Boom! Racism? Pow. Dirty landlords? Gotcha!
Who knew all that passion and rage could be directed at a late car payment? A missing button.
Reading Group Guide
This reading group guide for Accidents of Marriage includes an introduction and discussion questions intended to help your reading group find new and interesting angles and topics for your discussion. We hope that these ideas will enrich your conversation and increase your enjoyment of the book.
From the bestselling author of The Comfort of Lies comes an engrossing look at the darker side of a marriage—and at how an ordinary family responds to an extraordinary crisis.
Maddy is a social worker trying to balance her career and three children. Years ago, she fell in love with Ben, a public defender, and was drawn to his fiery passion, but now he’s lashing out at her during one of his periodic verbal furies. She vacillates between tiptoeing around him and asserting herself for the sake of their kids—which works to keep a fragile peace—until the rainy day when they’re together in the car and Ben’s volatile temper gets the best of him, leaving Maddy in the hospital fighting for her life.
Randy Susan Meyers takes us inside the hearts and minds of her characters, alternating among the perspectives of Maddy, Ben, and their fourteen-year-old daughter. Accidents of Marriage is a provocative and stunning novel that will resonate deeply with women from all walks of life, ultimately revealing the challenges of family, faith, and forgiveness.
Topics & Questions for Discussion
1. Meyers begins her novel with an epigraph from Frida Kahlo that reads “There have been two great accidents in my life. One was the trolley, and the other was Diego. Diego was by far the worst.” Did the epigraph inform your reading of Accidents of Marriage? How did that relate to Maddy’s marriage to Ben?
2. Why do you think that Meyers chose to title her novel Accidents of Marriage? Aside from the major accident at the center of the novel, are there other accidents that occur within Ben and Maddy’s marriage? What are they?
3. Discuss the structure of Accidents of Marriage. What is the effect of having multiple narrators? Which narrator did you feel the most drawn to or have sympathy for? Why?
4. Does Maddy’s relationship with Emma evolve throughout the book? If so, describe how. Given the trauma in their family, did you think that the changes in their relationship were realistic? Why or why not?
5. Vanessa, Maddy's sister, seems cold and unaffected by Maddy's situation. Why?
6. What were your initial impressions of Ben? Did they change throughout Accidents of Marriage? In what ways and why? Do you think that he can change, as he promises? Why or why not?
7. Emma’s grandmother tells her “forgiveness can make you feel better.” (p. 303) Is she correct? Why is it so important to the family that Emma is able to say the words “I forgive you”? Why do you think Emma is unable to do so?
8. What role does religion play in the novel? Do Maddy’s and Ben’s different faiths exacerbate the challenges in their marriage? If so, how?
9. What character did you find yourself the most worried about and why?
10. If you were in Maddy's situation, would you stay with Ben or leave him? Explain your reasons why. Did you find her decision surprising, given her profession? If so, how?
11. Each of the children react differently to Maddy’s accident. How do they cope, if at all? What do you think the long-term effects on Emma will be? Explain your reasons.
12. After reading the ending, what do you think is ahead for Maddy and her family? Was the ending satisfying?
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
The issue of domestic violence is at the forefront of many conversations today, in part due to the horrific video of Baltimore Ravens player Ray Rice knocking his fiancee out with a punch. Randy Susan Myers' timely novel Accidents of Marriage investigates what happens when a man who loses his temper too frequently finally loses control and it costs those he loves a great deal. Maddie is a social worker married to Ben, a public defender celebrated for his passion and intelligence in his work. He is looked up to by his colleagues and worshipped by his female intern. But Ben has a terrible temper, one that only his wife and three children- 14 year-old Emma, 9 year-old Gracie and 7 year-old Caleb- have seen up close. Ben verbally abuses his family and they live in fear of his outbursts, where he occasionally throws plates crashing into the wall. The slightest thing out of the ordinary- dirty dishes in the sink, clothes on the floor- send him into an uncontrollable rage. Funny thing about people who say they can't control their rage; they seem to be able to control it just fine at the office. They never scream at colleagues or clients; they save that for their family. Maddie has to call Ben to pick her up when her car gets towed for having an expired registration. Ben is late for a meeting, furious at Maddie for not taking care of the registration, and on a rain soaked road, he gets into a road rage incident and while speeding has an accident that leaves Maddie fighting for her life. Ben is injured, but Maddie is in a coma. Her family, her parents and sister Vanessa, who doesn't like Ben, are all there. The children are there too, but they are not allowed in the ICU area, so the three young children are in a separate waiting area- all alone. That really bugged me. There are several adults waiting, any one of whom could have gone and sat with these frightened children, who had no idea what was going on with their mother. The judgement of the adults in this situation left me dumbfounded. How could no one comfort those children? The story is told from three perspectives; Maddie, Ben and Emma all get to tell their stories. It is heartbreaking to see this family torn apart, and difficult to see Maddie try and put her life together after a serious traumatic brain injury. She has to start from the beginning and learn how to do everything from walking to talking to cooking, and her frustration comes through clearly on the page. Much of the day-to-day care of the house and the other children is left to Emma. Poor Emma gets overlooked, and so much is dumped into her lap, again without the adults thinking about how she is doing. I felt most deeply for Emma. Meyers does a wonderful job making us feel what this family is going through. Ben still has his anger issues, Maddie is trying to pick up the pieces of her life and figure out just what happened, and the children are struggling too. There is no miracle cure for Maddie, she must fight everyday and it exhausts her. The characters are realistic, and some even unlikable (and not just Ben, I didn't like Vanessa either). The Wednesday Blues Club, made up of women who live with domestic violence in their lives, is a support group that Maddie started in her job and when she returns after her injury, she has a new understanding and it causes her to rethink her own life choices. Accidents of Marriage is a terrific book club pick; there are so many meaty things to discuss in this book.
Given To Me For An Honest Review A great book about all the dynamics of marriage. This is a page turner, especially highlighting emotional abuse. It was a very difficult book to read but I was determined to finish it. This book is one that needs to be read by everyone. I highly recommend it to all.
Good book. Wanting that happily ever after ending, wanting it to all turn out but knowing that it probably wouldn’t.
I received an eARC of this book via NetGalley. I realized today, in August 2017, that I had marked it read but failed to write a review. Three years later I still remember this book and the impact reading it had on me. While I may have forgotten many little details, the emotions, the anger and Maddy's overall resilience and strength have stuck with me. I'm creating a new shelf - titled "Books to Re-Read" and tucking this book on it.
I love this author and this book. I found myself missing this family when I finished reading it. My aunt said the very same thing. The author is truly gifted. I cannot wait to read another one by her. The Murderer's Daughters was also excellent. My new favorite author.
Well-developed characters and the storyline had plenty of potential, but the lack of ending was a disappointment. There was no resolution or ending at all; no resolution to any of the interfamilial conflict the author presented. The book does not end-it just stops as if the author did not want to go on writing it. An ending - happy or sad - would have made this book at least a 3 star read.
and this was one, for sure. When we are young and in love, we often choose to overlook the truth. Kids and careers can complicate matters further and change us in ways we cannot predict. This novel is raw, and real. Happy endings can come in all forms... this story explores the struggles of marriage and then reveals what might be happiness for one person, is not necessarily happiness for everyone involved.
Really enjoyed this story. Highly recommend for a rainy weekend.
Very depressing and really sad. Found myself liking the husband more than any of the other characters, and don't think that is what the other was going for. Would not recommend.
I bought this book due to the 4 1/2 star rating. I don't know how it earned above 3 stars. I found it tedious and most unrealistic. I couldn't find any of the characters likeable. The ending was a "non-ending". I wish I hadn't invested the time.
Beautiful story. The ending left me wanting however. Not quiet what I expected the finale to be and for that I am somewhat disappointed. The story line was brilliant up until the last chapter.
Really good. I didn't want it to end!
I have decided I live in a sheltered world, never have I met someone who treated people like Ben. That being said, I do not have my head in the sand and know that there are people out there who just cannot control their anger. I struggled with Ben. Did I like him? Not always, but when the going got tough he seemed to do the best he could and step up as much as he possibly could. Did I trust him? Heck no. I was waiting for the other shoe to drop throughout this entire book. I know he was trying to change his ways, but it was still not enough. Did I want him to change his ways? Absolutely. I never want to see a family fall apart and held out hope until the very last page that he would figure out how to change his ways and control his anger. Ben was put in an extremely tough place and had to flounder and figure out how to make it work for him, his wife, and his children. Anyone man or woman would struggle with that and I really respected how he did step up and do the best he could. Accidents of Marriage is all about abuse, there was no physical abuse, but the anger and the emotional abuse was evident on almost every page. Seeing Maddy and the kids make excuse and try to sugar coat it to the rest of the world was eye opening and extremely scary. This is not an easy read. It is a story that will stay with me for a while after finishing it. I highly recommend it, but know that once you start you will have to finish. Putting the book down is just not an option.