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Love Is a Canoe by Ben Schrank
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Love Is a Canoe

by Ben Schrank

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I have read a few books lately whose topic is that marriage is not what it seems. Gillian Flynn's Gone Girl shows us the remnants of a bad marriage through the unreliable eyes of both spouses. Chris Pavone's The Expats uses the spy game as a metaphor for how little we really know how our own spouse.

Ben Schrank's novel Love Is a Canoe has a different take. Peter Herman wrote a hugely successful self-help book titled Love Is a Canoe, filled with the wisdom his loving grandparents shared with him as a teen. They taught him the importance of being respectful, treating the person you love with kindness, and many other bromides.

Peter fell in love with a young girl one summer when he was with his grandparents, and following his grandparents' advice, he pursued this girl and eventually married her. They bought an inn and restaurant in upstate New York and lived a happy life.

His wife fell ill and died, and now Peter is dating someone. He hasn't written anything else, and his publishing company has reissued his book many times, still selling a few copies here and there.

Stella is a young editor at the publishing house trying to move up the ladder. She comes up with an idea for a contest where couples would write in asking for marital advice. The winner would spend the day with Peter, stay at his inn and get some helpful guidance from him.

There were a few problems: Peter has had little contact with his publisher over the years, and they had to find just the right couple. Only one couple fits the bill- Emily and Eli. They have been happily married, until Eli cheated on Emily with a work colleague. Will Peter be able to help them? Stella's career depends on it.

There is a lot of inside stuff about working at a publishing house. The woman who is running the company is feared by all, and she was the editor on Peter's book. Schrank works for Penguin publishing and he shows us the pitch meetings, the jockeying for position, and the day-to-day inner workings. It is great fun to read, and this was my favorite part of the book.

This book surprised me with where it was going, and I truly like that in a novel. Taking that ride and not knowing where we'd end up was exciting. People are not necessarily who we have been led to believe, and things are not as they always appear.

The characters are well-drawn, although I thought people were too hard on Stella, ascribing character flaws to her that I do not believe she had. Schrank juggled the various storylines- Peter, Stella at the publishing house and Emily and Eli's marriage- so well that each one of these stories could have made for an interesting book. He brings them together skillfully.

In the end, my general feelings about self-help books were vindicated, but I'm not going to tell you what they are for that would ruin the ending of this wonderful book. ( )
  bookchickdi | Jan 23, 2013 |
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0374192499, Hardcover)

Peter Herman is something of a folk hero. Marriage Is a Canoe, his legendary, decades-old book on love and relationships, has won the hearts of hope­ful romantics and desperate cynics alike. He and his beloved wife lived a relatively peaceful life in upstate New York. But now it’s 2010, and Peter’s wife has just died. Completely lost, he passes the time with a woman he admires but doesn’t love—and he begins to look back through the pages of his book and question hom­ilies such as:

A good marriage is a canoe—it needs care and isn’t meant to hold too much—no more than two adults and a few kids.

It’s advice he has famously doled out for decades. But what is it worth?

Then Peter receives a call from Stella Petrovic, an ambitious young editor who wants to celebrate the fif­tieth anniversary of Marriage Is a Canoe with a contest for struggling couples. The prize? An afternoon with Peter and a chance to save their relationship.

The contest ensnares its creator in the largely opaque politics of her publishing house while it intro­duces the reader to couples in various states of distress, including a shy thirtysomething Brooklynite and her charismatic and entrepreneurial husband, who may just be a bit too charismatic for the good of their marriage. There’s the middle-aged publisher whose im­posing manner has managed to impose loneliness on her for longer than she cares to admit. And then there is Peter, who must discover what he meant when he wrote Marriage Is a Canoe if he is going to help the contest’s winners and find a way to love again.

In Love Is a Canoe, Ben Schrank delivers a smart, funny, romantic, and hugely satisfying novel about the fragility of marriage and the difficulty of repairing the damage when well-intentioned people forget how to be good to each other.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:25:19 -0400)

Famous for his fifty-year-old self-help book on love and relationships, Peter engages in a passionless relationship after the death of his wife and questions the validity of his advice when an ambitious young editor launches a contest for struggling couples based on his book.… (more)

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