I admit it. I’ll pick up a book based solely on the title and this one caught my eye: You Say Tomato, I Say Shut Up. It made me giggle and I had just finished a rather bitter fight with my husband and wanted some company in feeling miserable and self-righteous and suspected I might find it in this book.
After I examined the cover I realized that one of the authors is Annabelle Gurwitch who I enjoyed immensely on TBS Dinner and a Movie, a show that featured two hosts presenting a movie and cooking some movie-themed dinner while you watched. Annabelle’s wit was sarcastic and wacky. I loved her personality. Well, she found a great match in Jeff as both a life partner and writing partner. They are the couple you want to invite to your cocktail party. They make even the most painful personal events fodder for comedy.
The book is structured in “he says” “she says” conversations with marriage fun facts between chapters. It’s kind of like being in the middle of a marital spat or counseling session, only funny and enjoyable. In both really lovey and really angry couples the outsider can feel alienated, I think, because the couple is so focused on each other to the exclusion of the rest of the world. This book lets you in on the inside joke. And it is very relatable, at least in my experience, my marriage not quite being a source of unending emotional and sexual bliss. It’s close, you know, but not quite there. Jeff compares their book to the marriage self-help books: “I like to think of the authors of those books as the Daniel Boones and Davy Crocketts of the new frontier of marriage. And if they are Boones and Crocketts, then you should think of Annabelle and me and our book as the Donner party.”
As the self-proclaimed “Gurus of wrong,” Annabelle and Jeff take us through their courtship, marriage and the birth of their son Ezra who came into the world with serious birth defects. I think their sense of humor was a lifeline through that very tough time. One of the first signs of VACTERL, the condition Ezra was born with, is having no anus. This is a major problem that has to be corrected with surgery, but it's also kind of funny in a dark way. As Annabelle was coming out of the anesthesia from her c-section they told her about the problems with her newborn son she replied, "No anus? What happens if he's gay?" and when informed they would be surgically creating one she said, "Great. My son was born in Los Angeles and they're already making him an asshole!" I wish I could be that witty in the face of adversity.
The book is a great deal of fun while still being an intimate look at a real marriage. Through it all you get a sense of Annabelle and Jeff as a loving committed team. Maybe they don't know what they're doing (who does?) Maybe they're doing it wrong, but thirteen years says different. And if they're doing it wrong, I want to be wrong in the same way.
Annabelle describes when she felt them cohering as a couple: "It's not as if Jeff and I were combining our lives and by doing so we were bringing out the best and brightest qualities in each other. On the contrary we were mixing up our worst and our weirdest, but all signs were indicating that our boundaries had been changed forever. Maybe we were like Georgia and Russia. Sometimes Georgia is part of Russia. Sometimes Georgia is an independent state. And sometimes they go to war and fight like hell with each other." Through all of it, though, is love and some damn funny stories.