Picks and Pans Review: Two Part Invention

by Madeleine L’Engle

This sensitive book is subtitled “The Story of a Marriage.” That it is, but Two-Part I Invention is also about life in the theater, about faith, about coping with loss and about surviving. L’Engle, author of the acclaimed novel A Wrinkle in Time, met Hugh Franklin while rehearsing for a production of The Cherry Orchard, Madeleine as a bit player, Hugh as one of the leads. “I saw a very tall, thin young man with black hair and enormous, very blue eyes. I had never seen such eyes,” she writes. “He was out of my league. Even so, at the end of rehearsal, Franklin asked L’Engle to lunch, a meal that went on until nearly 2 A.M. Her marriage to Franklin, best known as Dr. Tyler on All My Children, lasted more than 40 years, until his death from cancer in 1987. According to L’Engle’s account, it was a marriage to be envied, a marriage made in heaven but played out very realistically on earth. “We were not a latter day Héloïse and Abelard, Pelléas and Mélisande when we married,” she writes. “For one thing, the Héloïses and Abelards, the Pelléases and Mélisandes do not get married and stay married for 40 years….The famous lovers usually end up dead.” The first part of the book, which deals with L’Engle’s early life, is lighthearted and wonderful. The second half of the book, which deals with Franklin’s illness—his horrible, protracted illness—is less successful. L’Engle effectively captures her husband’s suffering, the anguished waits in hospital corridors, the lonely dark nights of the soul, and the remembrance of joyful times past. But the reader hasn’t been given enough sense of Hugh healthy to deal with Hugh sick. Instead, L’Engle ponders the meaning of life and the power of love. No doubt it was therapeutic for her to ask, “What about prayer? To ask is to be human. To know that answers are not going to be given, and yet be willing to continue to ask it is to move into maturity.” Unfortunately such musing becomes frustrating for readers who want to know more about what was clearly a special couple and clearly a special marriage. (Farrar Straus Giroux, $18.95)

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