Review by Tess Tabak
Brett is a hopeless romantic who finds herself middle-aged, washed out with fading looks and her fiery independence dulled by brain damage. Enter Cash, a former drug addict turned born-again Christian. When the two enter into an unlikely, impulsive marriage, the meat of Jennifer Spiegel’s novel, And So We Die, Having First Slept, begins.
You don’t necessarily think of an abusive marriage as grounds for a great romance novel, but Spiegel has such a remarkable talent for capturing characters that it never feels forced. Cash and Brett feel like real people trapped in a dark place, working through their demons together. Where Cash is addictive, sulky and at times violent, Brett has a fierce need to be loved by someone, and a belief both that her value as a woman is fading and that it’s her wifely duty to stand by her man. Though religion is a big part of the narrative, Spiegel doesn’t portray them as Christian monoliths. She explains both characters’ complicated and ever-changing relationship to their faith.
Spiegel writes throughout in an almost adolescent-esque tone. Brett treats every moment of her life as if it’s deeply significant. On marrying Cash within weeks of meeting him, she muses, “Mathematics, certainty, the alignment of stars, fate. Apart from anything having to do with each other, they were waiting for this to happen. Waiting for divine intervention. They would roll the dice. They would play with lives, with each other’s lives, their very own lives. What did they have to lose?” Spiegel is in love with language, wrapping every scene in high-blown prose. Her prose is lyrical throughout.
The book itself isn’t a particularly “easy” or pleasant read. As I mentioned earlier, Cash and Brett find themselves in a dark place. They have a dysfunctional relationship, a la Catherine and Heathcliff in Wuthering Heights, but Cash’s misdeeds are more mundane than say, drowning puppies. He does drugs, frightens the children, misses work. Spiegel does a realistic job of portraying an abusive marriage, a challenging feat. When Brett doesn’t immediately leave Cash, it feels like a bit of a letdown. However, Spiegel explains Brett’s thought process extremely well throughout, making it clear why she makes the decisions she does. Just be aware that this book isn’t exactly a walk in the park. There were moments when I felt terrified for Brett and her children, a testament to Spiegel’s writing but also perhaps not what you might expect from a romance novel. Spiegel takes us through a large swath of time, slowly but steadily taking us from Brett’s childhood and young adulthood into her fifties. If you can muster through the discomfort, Spiegel leaves us in a satisfying place.
This novel was originally published by a small press that folded shortly after publishing the novel. However, you can purchase a copy directly from the author on Amazon. We spoke with Jennifer about the experience of having the excitement of having her book published turn into a nightmare; our interview with her will follow soon.