What It Feels Like to “Find Out”: Review of “Vow”

Tucker Lieberman has published essays in anthologies including Balancing on the Mechitza, which won a 2011 Lambda Literary Award, and Letters for My Brothers, which was a 2012 Lambda finalist. He also writes fiction and poetry, co-organized a monthly open mic in Boston, serves as the volunteer channel manager for Historical Literature on Helium (www.helium.com), and produces a twice-yearly publication on ethics called Moral Relativism Magazine (www.moralrelativism.com).


Link to Vow:


“I used to think marriage was based on passion and love. Now I see that it’s based mostly on loyalty,” Wendy Plump writes in her new book, Vow. (“Loyalty with warmth,” she adds.)

In this emotionally stunning and pragmatically philosophical memoir of marital infidelity, Plump gradually reveals the layers of her story: her several affairs, followed by her husband’s affair–and his affair, she convinces the reader, was a worse transgression. She is not innocent, and she does not assume the mantle of righteousness. At the same time, she is angry about the specific way in which she was wronged–its “blast corridor” that she had to navigate through an “emotional coma”–and Plump’s anger brings her to a deepened perspective about marriage, family, romance, and herself, all of which she shares generously and directly.

Having committed infidelities herself, she does not present herself within a gendered narrative as a “wronged woman” oppressed by her husband’s behavior as much as she presents herself simply as a person who has suffered. “The received certainty that men cheat more than women doesn’t sit well. I just do not think it’s true,” she writes. “There are not men who cheat and women who endure them. There are people who cheat and there are people who don’t. It divides much more neatly along those lines. Spouses weaken at the same rate, as the (male) poet Galway Kinnell puts it. Look at Madame Bovary. Look at Anna Karenina. It’s only literature, but it’s great literature, and nothing if not reflective of our humanity. I raised myself on these classics, which may have been where I got the idea in the first place.”

“I believe in monogamy,” she swears, but she admits, “I just haven’t been very good at it.” She speculates that successful monogamists are motivated only partly by the desire to uphold their marriage vow and to avoid hurting their spouse, and partly by “their own honor. A sense of self that will not let them score across their own pristine slate. That’s a commitment to one’s self as opposed to one’s spouse. Maybe that is the stronger bond after all.”

In Vow, Plump shares a great deal of her hard-earned wisdom. Especially memorable is her description of how we live with shades of doubt about our family members, and what it feels like to come to know something that will change one’s life. One manages a life through years of carefully crafted denial, “and then suddenly, in a moment thin as a sacrificial wafer, you know.” Knowledge is followed by “shock” and “fog.” Plump also explains why she tried to save her marriage, what the last straw was, and why she stole her husband’s sneaker as he left.

If she knew that someone was cheating on their spouse, she does not believe that she would inform the spouse, at least “in most situations.” After all, the marriage might fall apart, and, she asks, “Who am I to force this consequence on him or on them?” At the same time, she recognizes that a particular detail about her husband’s affair finally prompted her friends to take the step of warning her. That is what makes it an unforgettable story about “finding out.”

One thought on “What It Feels Like to “Find Out”: Review of “Vow”

  1. Dear Tucker: I am sorry that I”m just seeing this now. This is one of the best-written blogs on the subject of my book, “Vow.” I thank you warmly for your excellent, judicious and generous review. All the best to you and your own writing — Wendy Plump

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