Perfection by Julie Metz

From the book description:

Julie Metz had seemingly the perfect life—an adoring husband, a happy, spirited daughter, a lovely old house in a quaint suburban town—but it was all a lie. Julie Metz’s life changed forever on one ordinary January afternoon when her husband, Henry, collapsed on the kitchen floor and died in her arms. Suddenly, this mother of a six-year-old became the young widow in her bucolic small town. But that was only the beginning. Seven months after Henry’s death, just when Julie thought she was emerging from the worst of it, came the rest of it: She discovered that what had appeared to be the reality of her marriage was but a half-truth. Henry had hidden another life from her. Perfection is the story of Metz’s journey through chaos and transformation as she creates a different life for herself and for her young daughter. It is the story of rebuilding both a life and an identity after betrayal and widowhood, of rebirth and happiness—if not perfection.

Julie Metz is a New York-born writer, graphic designer, and artist. In addition to Perfection she has written essays and commentary for The New York Times and The Huffington Post. She has also designed book covers for the novels: The Poisonwood Bible, by Barbara Kingsolver, The Gathering, by Anne Enright and Boom! Aftershocks of the Sixties by Tom Brokaw. Metz’s husband, referred to as Henry in the book, died at home from a pulmonary embolism on January 8, 2003. Perfection is the resultant effort from Metz’s time absorbing the shock of Henry’s death and then working through the rage of his discovered betrayals and mostly covers the three years following Henry’s death.

In an interesting precursor to the book, a note to readers is included:

“I have changed the names (except my own), and other details of persons in this book. I have not changed the name of a certain dog, which suited the animal and my story perfectly. Sometimes real life surprises fiction even in the details. I have, on a few occasions, changed the order of events, where those changes benefit narrative flow without altering a factual telling of the story. Otherwise, all dialogue and events took place as I remember and recount them in these pages.”

I can only attribute this to the James Frey fall-out.

Having said that, nothing about Metz’s account comes across as questionable or improbable. Her story, though,is very probably any partnered person’s worst nightmare realized. Imagine the sudden and unexpected death of your spouse, in your kitchen, felled by a fatal pulmonary embolism. Now imagine, six months later, discovering the person you trusted absolutely was not, at all, who you thought. Is it worse to be bereaved or betrayed? Often, as an attempt at comfort, those grieving are reminded that their loved one will live on in their memories but if those memories are compromised, does the deceased still manage an existence in our world and our minds?

Julie Metz, through a revelation from a close friend, comes to know her husband had been not just unfaithful, but a serial philanderer (who was also hiding secret debts) throughout their thirteen year marriage. Using her own journal entries, along with Henry’s electronic diaries and emails, Metz created Perfection. She has been noted as “brave”, “shocking” and “candid” in other reviews of her book but none of Metz’s tale strikes me as shocking nor do her actions smack of bravery. Metz just did did what she needed to emerge on the other side.

While Henry is lying, dead on their kitchen floor, Metz is cognizant of her “last normal moment”. Metz rages at her husband now beyond her physical reach: “Henry, you are so fucking lucky to be dead.”, calling him “…a piece of shit bastard”; her grieving shoved aside to rail against Henry’s betrayal. Metz manages to identify and contact six of Henry’s mistresses, challenging them on how they were able to participate in a relationship with a married father. Through these interactions Metz comes to gain a more complete picture of the man who was her husband. Through executor privilege, Metz arranges a meeting with Henry’s therapist who offers Henry’s diagnosis of ‘narcissistic personality disorder’ with an amazing ability to compartmentalize, not as an excuse but, perhaps as a peg to hang things on in an attempt at coming to understand her husband’s actions.

Metz definitely does a compelling job sharing her loves, her losses and the lies she must deal with, while offering a cautionary tale about the idea of perfection within a marriage.

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