My Only Wife by Jac Jemc (Dzanc Books, 2012)

My Only Wife by Jac Jemc (Dzanc Books, 2012)

By Jennifer Bostrom

It’s a quick read that demands patience and fond visits. It demands to be left within reach, to be randomly flipped through, and enjoyed for only a moment. It demands to be read in one stretch, pouring over quirks and secrets. My Only Wife (Dzanc Books, 2012) demands attention. Written by Jac Jemc (These Strangers She’d Invited In, 2010; A Different Bed Every Time, 2014), a Chicago-based writer, My Only Wife explores the pains, pitfalls, and pulchritude of a marriage from its beginnings to its damnation.

In postmortem of his marriage a husband falls in and out of love with his wife as her quirks shift into eccentricities. To quote Kundera, “Love begins with a metaphor. Which is to say, love begins at the point when a woman enters her first word into our poetic memory,” Jemc captures this notion to the very letter through the eyes of the husband; He is a man in love, a man infatuated, a man who understands his wife with perfect clarity and blinding befuddlement. “My wife was the start of me. If someone were to ask how I had changed since I met her I would be unable to find the words. It wasn’t that I changed because of knowing her. It’s more accurate to say that I began.” 

Though they are never named, the man and wife are outlined through a series of idiosyncratic vignettes, each one more lovely and disheartening than the next. While it could have been a hindrance, Jemc deftly handles the lack of titles by making tangible the severity of the husband’s loss through his repeated mantra, “my wife.” 

“My wife was a clumsy acquaintance who lumbered through days.”

“My wife wore trousers . . . She filled her clothes the way one fills one’s skin: exactly.”

“She was my only wife and I accepted her for all that she was, all quirks, all inconsistencies and unexpected preferences.”

The wife in question has one habit in particular that begins as endearing and quickly turns isolating. She records stories. After talking to strangers, she returns to her home every night and records stories that no one hears, stories that she hides way in her closet—a closet she keeps locked, only showing her husband once when they move in together.

“‘Can I see the closet again?’ I asked, at five years.

‘You know better,’ she said, locking it behind her and struggling to reattach the bracelet to her wrist, key dangling. 

‘Why not?’

‘That was a one-time thing. I told you that. You understood. That’s the end.’ She wasn’t amused. . . .

She was a bit bewildered by my stubbornness. ‘That closet is mine, and I get one thing that is only mine. No, you can’t look inside.’”

Her husband is tethered to her uniqueness from the very beginning, but the quirky woman who so hauntingly captures her husband’s heart is off-putting as much as she is beautiful, a train wreck demanding attention. His wife is an affable, irascible despot, moving from inclusivity and intimacy to independence and indifferent cynicism at the drop of a hat, leaving a sense of whiplash in her wake.

Jac Jemc wrestles the demons of love and loss in a sketch of two people fighting inevitability. Their “love begins at the point when a woman enters her first word into our poetic memory.”

Jennifer Bostrom is a BA Honors Fiction Graduate from Columbia College Chicago, Academic Excellence scholarship recipient (2013-2016), Production Editor of CCC’s award-winning Hair Trigger anthology, and former contributer for HYPERtext MagazineJennifer's fiction can be found at The Copperfield Review and Habitat Magazine or on her website 

September 29, 2016