Book Review: Love is a Canoe

canoe2A self-help junkie, I have often wondered what it would be like to spend face-to-face time with one of my favorite gurus.

What insights could I gain from Louise Hay, Martha Beck or Wayne Dyer?

In Love is a Canoe, author Ben Schrank plays with this deep-seated desire among fans of self help/motivational literature.

Stella Petrovic, an ambitious young editor at a prestigious New York publishing house, spearheads a contest to celebrate the fiftieth anniversary of a best-selling relationship book—Love is a Canoe—written by Peter Herman. She invites married couples in trouble to share their stories. One lucky couple will spend a weekend with the author in a picturesque town in upstate New York.

Hundreds of letters arrive, most of them “hopeless and upsetting in shocking circumstances.” While reading about these unfixable marriages, Stella frets about finding suitable candidates and worries that some of that negativity may rub off on her.

Emily Babson’s letter makes the cut.

Happily married for three years to Eli Corelli, she has recently discovered his affair with an employee at his bicycle company. A long-time fan of Love is a Canoe, she admits to reading and rereading the book several times while growing up in a household with fighting parents who eventually divorced. Still devoted to the success of her marriage, she hopes that her weekend with Peter will enable her to forgive Eli.

While Peter’s own marriage with his recently deceased wife appears almost idyllic, there were cracks in that perfect facade. Peter didn’t always follow the folksy advice he gives in his book: “Good love is a quilt—light as feathers and strong as iron”; “Desire for your loved one gives you the strength to paddle on.”

I didn’t particularly like any of the main characters,  but I could easily visualize the quiet and judgmental child/woman struggling with her husband’s betrayal, the awkward outsider trying to get a handle on the clawing and back-biting in the publishing industry, and the conflicted, aging author forced to acknowledge past indiscretions.

A well-written novel that explores the chaos and messiness of relationships.


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