Monday, March 7, 2022

Literary Wives #51

 I'm Fine and Neither Are You
Camille Pagan

This is the 51st book read and reviewed for the Literary Wives online book discussion group! 

Check us out on Facebook and Twitter #LiteraryWives!

The Literary Wives virtual book club "meets" every third month/once per quarter 
to discuss a book with the word "wife" or "wives" in the title or 
a book that discusses marriage but whose title lacks either of these words. 

We are particularly interested in the way(s) in which wives are portrayed in literature. 
We try to answer this question:

What does this book say about wives 
or about the experience of being a wife?

Each of us extends our discussion into more specific areas we can 
personally relate to which makes for enlightening comparisons!

We read books across genres and hope to generate discussion about each title.
And...YOU can join us! 
That's right!
Literary Wives Has Openings! 
Some members have recently resigned and we will miss them!
We are anxious to recruit a few new members into the club!
If you are interested in becoming one of those, 
please let us know!
You can comment here 
or on one of the other cohost's blogs (listed below)
to inform us of your interest:
                                             Kay of WHATMEREAD

You might ask...
What Does Literary Wives Membership Involve?
You only need to be a reader interested in 
discussing how literature depicts wives and marriage.
We read and review four books per year. 
You would need to post a review on your blog on 
the first Monday of March, June, September, and December.
That's it! 

And NOW is the time! 
Our next book review isn't until June 6, 2022,
and we are just beginning the book selection process for the next two years!
You would begin by reviewing our listing of books to be considered, 
then voting for your favorites to help compile a listing of the 8 top vote-getters!
This process is set to begin once we have some new members!

We wish to expand the Literary Wives club and hope you will join us! 

And now on to my review of I'm Fine and Neither Are You
As is typical for me, I knew little to nothing about this book before reading it. And I was blown away! I found it to be a very compelling read and as noted in my Goodreads review, found it to be the most realistic book I've read regarding marriage and was thrilled there was no depiction of yet another man/husband who refused to remain faithful to his wife/partner! (My disclaimer: I do not believe "marriage" or any other long-term relationship must include only one "male" and one "female." Any combination makes a couple, in my opinion! But for this discussion we are concentrating on this marriage between Penelope and Sanjay.)

I appreciated the fact that although these two people were from diverse backgrounds that aspect of their lives together was not emphasized. Pagán just wrote about this couple, noting Sanjay's Indian parents and background, but not making that the core of their story or relationship together. I felt this leant a more relatable and realistic emphasis on their marriage.

Penelope and Sanjay have two children, the younger, Miles at 6 years old, and the elder, Stevie (named for Sanjay's musical hero Stevie Ray Vaughn) at nearly 8 years of age. They have been married 11 years and stress is starting to erode their marriage relationship... At least for Penelope, the stress is becoming unbearable as she is the adult responsible for  everything: making sure they have toilet paper in the house as well as all other groceries, planning and preparing all meals, doing laundry, scheduling household repairs, coordinating their children's schedules and transportation, and earning the only consistently reliable income to support them all... Too much. Way too much... I should know. This was my life at 10 years of marriage as well. I could definitely relate to Penelope's feeling that she "wanted out" of this marriage. I could remember the same feeling...

Sanjay and Penelope met while working and living in New York and then after knowing each other for 10 years and having been together for 7 of those years. When Stevie was 6 months old, they are moving to the midwestern US so Sanjay can attend medical school. Penelope was reticent about his plan, feeling Sanjay was pursuing a medical career to please his parents rather than pursuing what truly interested him...which was writing and music. Writing about music, actually! 

They move and Penny begins working full-time in development for this midwestern university, making just enough to support her family, which now includes not one, but two children. Sanjay quit medical school after the first year and became a stay-at-home parent, though he accomplished little more in a day's time than caring for the children--no cleaning or laundry, etc., which still fell to Penny to do. Thank goodness she has a best friend, Jenny, whose presence makes it bearable for Penny to keep doing the day-to-day routine drudgery of work, kids, laundry, dishes, sleep, repeat... Though Penny discovers there is much about Jenny that she did not know...

Jenny's marriage and life appeared to be "pristine" in all ways, though the reality of her life was much different. Jenny suffered with endometriosis, requiring pain relievers. She was addicted to opioids. She and her husband, Matt, avoided each other as much as possible--their relationship was distant and flawed, at best. He chose to travel for his job at every opportunity and she immersed herself in an extremely successful blogging life. They had one child, Cecily, who was within two months of Miles' age. As is typical for most any survivors of a loved one's downfall, both Matt and Penny keep thinking of the "what-ifs" regarding Jenny's demise...what if they had done this differently or said this instead of that in the past and saved Jenny? I believe it is only natural to have such thoughts.

In the wake of Penelope's discoveries of Jenny's 'behind the scenes' traumatic life, she  decides that she must change her life so she can be less stressed out and happier or at least more relaxed and comfortable day in and day out with her family, work, and very little to no leisure time. Jenny's last text message to Penny read
If you're not happy, make a change(80)
Penny realizes that although Jenny can no longer do this, she can. Sanjay agrees to her solution: each of them will present the other with a listing of three things they want the other to change about themselves in order to restore their marriage to a better place and make a more enjoyable, happier, home life for all four of them. And, the main caveat is that they must each be honest with the other person. Totally honest. As Sanjay states,
To be honest with you, Penny, I worry that too much honesty might be a bad idea. (91)
I admit to nodding my head in agreement as I read that sentence. After two 20+-year relationships I would agree that not every single thing needs to be honestly communicated to the other person at all times...

As Penelope thinks,
There was a reason that instead of daydreaming about my husband taking me passionately 
against a wall, I fantasized about replacing him with a wife. (61)
Let's just say that Sanjay was not keeping up with his role as the "stay-at-home parent" in many ways. Penelope was still doing all the housework, paying all the bills, doing all the grocery shopping and meal planning, etc. He was there for the children, but that was about it. She wants him to start doing more around the house, etc., since she is the only one working full-time outside the home. He readily agrees and follows through. 

He wants more sex. Admittedly, when Penelope thinks about it, they are rarely having sex/making love any more. And she realizes she misses it as well, though being stressed out every day and bone tired every night makes it difficult for her to even imagine it. But she does start trying...

Penny's second request of Sanjay is that he start making more financial contributions to the family, i.e. he get a job. Even a part-time job that would allow him more time to write would be a help. Fortunately, he immediately agrees that he has been "coasting" way too long and the financial burden and stress all falls unfairly on Penny. 

Penny's third request is that Sanjay actually "be there" when he "is there." Rather than not listening to and participating in family conversations/interactions, he should be an active participant. For her and the children, rather than looking at his phone or staring out the window, he should actively listen. Though this is a bit more difficult for Sanjay to envision, he eventually realizes she is correct, and adjusts accordingly. 

Sanjay's second request of Penny is to be more honest and quit trying to look as if she is "just fine" and nothing is wrong all the time. Of course, once she decides to finally stand up to the obnoxious 'barge in your house at any time' neighbor, Lorrie, is the one time her daughter, Olive, is with her and unfortunately, Penny yells at her,
"I'm going to need you to knock before coming into our house...
And when you knock, you are going to wait until Sanjay or I answers and asks you to enter. 
You cannot keep walking in like you live here, because it's terrifying. Okay?" (161)
And then,
[Olive] stood in front of me, teeth bared. "You're a mean lady!" she spat. "Mean!" (161)
After which Sanjay admits that maybe this wasn't exactly what he meant about being more honest... :)

In the end, this marriage is definitely strengthened though there were a few hitches along the way: Penny somewhat alienating Matt and Cecily due to her honest advocacy for Cecily's well-being, and Penny agonizing over Sanjay's confession that he quit the band due to an uncomfortable interest that one of his band mates, Christina (a female), appeared to have taken in him. Penny and Sanjay spend four days back in New York together and this helps them overcome some of the rigid routine of their married life once they return to the Midwest. Sanjay gets a full-time job and a literary agent, and he and Penelope are tackling life head-on as true partners. And, Sanjay helps reunite Penny with her estranged father as he begins battling stomach cancer. Since her mother had abandoned her family when Penny was young, her father had to be a single parent and his way of handling that was to travel all the time for work while Penny cared for her younger brother, Nick. This is one big reason Penny feels bound to advocate for Cecily in the wake of her mother's death. 

Pagán seems to advocate for a "wife" who is real and honest about her needs and desires. Though this does require a "husband" willing to listen and change. And for the "wife" to also listen and change. It should be compromise on both sides. I often used to tell my ex-husband that we needed to work on our relationship/marriage as the children grew up so that we would have a healthy relationship once we were empty-nesters. Little did I know he had no intention of remaining in a relationship with me, but I could definitely relate to Penelope's plight and I was very glad that Sanjay truly loved and respected her and was also willing to work on their relationship/marriage! 

I will definitely plan to read more of Pagán's writing. As a matter of fact, I would appreciate at least a sequel to this book. It would be interesting to see where Penelope and Sanjay end up after this...   

Literary Wives will return on June 6th with another review! Join us! 

Please check out the other co-hosts' reviews:

Noami of Consumed by Ink

Happy reading!


  1. I am attempting to comment by opening up a different browser than I usually use. Let's see if it works. I agree that this was a refreshing view of a marriage, although I thought the book went for too easy resolutions. But they had a pretty good marriage, I thought.

    1. So glad this finally worked for you, Kay! Amazing how differently browsers can work... I think I expected or hoped for "too easy resolutions"! I like reading such books at least every once in awhile. :) I really need to add the fact that in my opinion, this was quite an advertisement for a "wife" advocating for herself within a marriage. I think that's why I enjoyed it so much! It was amazing to see Penelope learn to control her own emotions enough to communicate effectively and respectfully and consider how husband's perspective as well. Glad you made it here!!! LOL

  2. Hi Lynn! Your review was a great reminder of all the details of the book! I agree that this was one of the more realistic/relatable marriages we've read about, which was nice. And I liked the fact that the kids played a big role.
    Your review also made me wonder how things would have gone between them if Sanjay hadn't suddenly gotten his big break? It seems a bit too good to be true that he got a job he likes and a book deal right when he needed it. But, of course, it's supposed to be a feel good book and I did like it for that very reason!

    1. The kids were great! Rumpelforeskin!! I laughed and laughed at that one! It was a feel good book and I appreciate having those to work into my reading rotation every once in awhile! Anxious to read you and Kay's thoughts now!