What happens when a wife decides, after 42 years of marriage, that she’s had enough and wants a change? That is the focus of Judith Arnold’s Good-bye to All That.
Ruth Bendel is over it. She is tired of her husband Richard leaving his beard shavings in the sink, tired of him channel surfing, and tired of taking care of other people. Her three grown children – Doug, an eye doctor married to a hot blonde wife; Jill, a work-from-home mother whose husband is a school teacher and who writes catalog copy; and Melissa, a 31-year-old single attorney dating a hairdresser – are shocked when Ruth decides to up and leave Richard. Richard is a tad nonplussed himself.
But Ruth wants freedom, and it starts with getting a job at First Rate, where she wears a red bib and operates a cash register, and where she makes a few new friends. On a night out with one of them and his soon-to-be-ex-girlfriend, she has an epiphany.
It occurred to her that she might have enjoyed doing things like this – going to clubs in Boston, drinking lousy wine and dancing until she was dripping with sweat – for years. But she’d never demanded that Richard take her dancing at clubs. She’d never even asked. He would have considered ti out of character for her, and inappropriate. She’d been a suburban wife and mother, for God’s sake, not someone who was fly. And so she’d never fought for what she wanted.
That, in essence, is why Ruth leaves her husband: she wants to fight for what she wants, even if she isn’t completely sure what that is.
Doug reacts the most selfishly. Who will babysit his twin daughters while he and his wife head to Nevis for a romantic getaway? He even comes to look at his wife suspiciously. Will she get bored? Will she leave him? Doug realizes that his own marriage might need a re-examination.
The middle child and the rock of the family, Jill, also struggles. She begins to wonder if she will leave her husband. Will his beard shavings get on her nerves? Will she want to wear a red bib and make new friends?
If she could misread her parents’ marriage so totally, how could she trust her judgment on any other issue? If Ruth and Richard Bendel could get a divorce after all these years, why shouldn’t Jill also assume that gravity didn’t exist, and chocolate-chip cookies lowered your cholesterol, and Abbie didn’t need a bat mitzvah, and the shantung silk scarves being peddled by Black Pearl actually felt more like sandpaper than a waterfall against one’s skin?
Then there is Melissa, who cries and weeps and reacts with great emotion. Melissa, however, lives in New York, separated from her Boston-based family, and it is easier for her to wallow with self-focus. She wants to buy an apartment, she wants to figure out if things are serious with the hairdresser boyfriend, and she wants to win her latest legal case.
Lastly, we get to know Richard. He quickly realizes that steady, calm Ruth is more than just a body or a wife. She is a person, and perhaps she has a point. But does Richard come to this realization too late?
Goodbye to All That is funny, touching, and ultimately inconclusive, but that’s life, isn’t it? Can we really solve our problems so easily? If we want freedom and we want something new, can we figure out why we want or need that within 300 pages? Probably not, as Judith Arnold apparently agrees. The problem, though, is that while Ruth’s decisions may not be tidied up, the rest of the family’s are, and that rings a little false. Ruth isn’t the only one with a complex set of issues, yet hers are the only ones not easily solved.
Published by Bell Bridge Books and available on Amazon.com.
Thanks to NetGalley for the preview.