“Marriage is hard work,” Camille Pagán writes in her latest novel, I’m Fine and Neither are You. It’s a phrase we’ve all heard many times and a truth many wedded people know all too well. But how hard can it get before someone tries to escape? This is the question that rattles the brain of Pagán’s protagonist, Penny.
Penny is stressed, to say the least. Her husband, Sanjay, doesn’t work and barely helps with their two rambunctious kids. Her job expects her to work overtime almost every day without the pay and respect that should come with overtime. And to top it all off, Jenny, her best friend, and the only real support in Penny’s arduous life, just died.
The plot has a few twists and allows the reader to do some introspection. The relativity of what has happened to Penny and the growth of her character from the middle to the end is the best part of this story. Readers will keep turning pages in pursuit of answers to salvage their own marriage, relationships with their children, or their work life. We find Penny asking herself ‘How can I be a better wife? A better mother? A better friend?’ And while the novel attempts to answer these esoteric questions, the author’s style disrupts the depth of the story.
Although Pagán does a fantastic job explaining the circumstances surrounding Penny, the reader does not feel an immediate connection to the main character. Is her life relatable? Undeniably yes. Almost any adult woman can pick up this book and see themselves living the mundane life of Penelope Ruiz-Kar; however, it’s hard to grasp her character and know who Penny is as a person at the start of this book, and this sets the tone for the rest of the novel.
Rather than let the actions and thoughts of her characters discern the plotline of the story, Pagán tells us what happens. At times, this approach works and readers can assess a character by his/her reactions; however, it also takes away the depth of development in our main character. This is where the book falls short.
Overall, I quite enjoyed reading Pagán’s work. It’s an easy read, and I can envision a woman like Penny because her experience is very real. “Marriage is hard work,” the author writes, and to work on one’s marriage, the protagonist learns that there are many options from which to choose. She must choose wisely.—Shannon Murphy