The Beauty of the Husband: A Fictional Essay in 29 Tangos
The Beauty Of The Husband is an essay on Keats’s idea that beauty is truth, and is also the story of a marriage. It is told in 29 tangos. A tango (like a marriage) is something you have to dance to the end.
This clear-eyed, brutal, moving, darkly funny book tells a single story in an immediate, accessible voice–29 “tangos” of narrative verse that take us vividly through erotic, painful, and heartbreaking scenes from a long-time marriage that falls apart. Only award-winning poet Anne Carson could create a work that takes on the oldest of lyrical subjects—love—and make it this powerful, this fresh, this devastating.
Though Anne Carson’s poetry is shot through with the myths and images of the classical world, that ancient light helps illuminate contemporary situations and concerns. A classics professor at McGill University in Montreal, Carson has arrived in a surprisingly short time as one of Canada’s finest poets. More than that, her exquisite, intelligent, highly original poems put her in the first rank of world poets. In The Beauty of the Husband, subtitled A Fictional Essay in 29 Tangos, she explores her ambiguous feelings toward a difficult but intriguing marriage. Each poem begins with a short quote from John Keats, whose idea that “beauty is truth” is the thread holding together a relationship with a man addicted to lying and philandering. A scoundrel (“He lied when it wasn’t even convenient”), the husband is redeemed and forgiven almost everything because of beauty.
For Carson, the truth is “layered and elusive,” hidden under the conversations of a thousand nights, nights when the lights were still on at dawn. There is a daring quality to Carson’s work, a startling vision and perspective that will not be judged by normal standards. By penetrating to the core of a relationship, Carson stands convention on its head and finds “the light that pain brings.” These poems bespeak the brilliance and shade of shape-shifting truth and conjure a freshness of language that shimmers. Somehow it seems fitting that the book itself, as an object to hold and behold, is also beautiful. —Mark Frutkin