Matthew J. Metzger is admittedly one of my go to authors. I have read much of his work and have often been a bit awe-struck at his innate ability to delve deeply into the psyche of his ofttimes wounded characters and bring them to life. Many of his novels can be described as gritty—unapologetically realistic and tending to touch on subject matters that can make the reader uncomfortable with their raw look at intimate feelings. However, this latest novel, Married Ones, is a horse of a different color and I have to say it was simply beautiful and left me a bit misty eyed in a very good way.
The story centers on an established couple, Stephen and Mike, who have been together for nine years and married for four. Both are teachers, but come from vastly different backgrounds. Mike is a big guy who freely admits he is fat and enjoys exchanging insults with the love of his life, Stephen, who he calls a “grumpy thin git.” Mike is a working class success, having achieved his degree and become a successful biology teacher who is loved by his very proud family. Stephen, on the other hand, comes from money—lots of old money– and while he, too, is a successful Ph.D. now teaching history, his parents could not be more disapproving-–particularly of Mike and their marriage.
In Married Ones we become a part of Mike and Stephen’s summer break and the six weddings they must attend—most of which are immediate family and the few odd friends. Those occasions could not be more different as we swing from the cold, sterile wedding of Stephen’s estranged twin to the warm and incredibly beautiful marriage of Mike’s mom to the man who had become, over the years, his stepdad for all intents and purposes. I have to say right here that the toast Mike gives his Mom and Leonard is absolutely hands down the biggest tearjerker moment of this novel. Metzger wrote some beautiful passages in this book and that is certainly one of them.
Married Ones was a “feel good” novel—not the usual fare from this author, but done incredibly well and assuredly a romance many will find just too good to put down. I devoured this book and it has earned a place on my read again shelf for sure. As usual, expect to see most of the LGBTQIA+ spectrum of characters who end up in a Metzger novel and also look for the quiet way the author establishes the sexuality of both his main characters. I loved watching these two together. Mike was an emotional savant; he could read Stephen like a book in all the good ways and knew when to lighten the mood as they awaited critical test results that would map out their future together in a most profound way. I found their fairly constant exchange of insults funny and spot on for the kind of relationship they had and when those key moments of vulnerability would rear their head and we saw just how insecure Mike could be, the repartee between the two became that more precious.
I suppose my only moment of confusion in this novel stems from a comment Mike makes after being asked to be the faculty advisor for a school LGBT group for the students. His response gave me pause and yet looking back I can see why he chose to answer as he did—he saw nothing special about his and Stephen’s relationship, they just were, just themselves and very much in love.
Married Ones is that rare novel that just celebrates love in all its iterations. There is no agenda here—no heavy angst—nothing to prove. This book was simply a window into the lives of two men who love deeply and are committed to each other. It was beautiful and I highly recommend it to you.