When my MIL comes over to our house, she sometimes pokes around on our bookshelves, looking for something to borrow.
This generally doesn’t bother me. If my conservative MIL wants to borrow some of my old college textbooks on intersectional feminism or some of my husband’s Kurt Vonnegut collection, she can be my guest.
But then one day…
“Hmmm. Is this a good book?” she asks, as she plucks a book off the bookshelf and holds it up.
Oh dear God.
No, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no.
Not that book.
Anything but THAT book.
The book she’s holding up is “On Chesil Beach” by Ian McEwan.
Spoiler warning – if you’ve never read this book and think you want to someday, you might want to stop reading this post right now.
If you’ve read this book, you’re probably laughing right now. You probably know exactly why I’m freaking out at the thought of lending this book to my MIL.
If you haven’t read the book, you’re probably wondering what all the fuss is about.
Here’s what its about:
“On Chesil Beach” is about a newlywed couple, set in early 1960s England. And when I say newlywed, I mean truly newlywed. The book joins the couple, fresh from their wedding, as they check into a seaside hotel for their honeymoon. They eat dinner together, they move on to their room.
And so it begins.
This will be the first time the husband and wife make love. The wife is cold, intimidated, a bit frigid, not really sure what to expect. The husband is ready, eager, chomping at the bit.
So as they begin the process of getting undressed, before anything physical really even happens, the husband gets a little too excited and unexpectedly blows his load.
All. Over. His. Wife.
This is described in graphic detail and at great length.
She reacts in horror. He’s mortified. They both become defensive and have a big fight.
They wind up going their separate ways and never speaking again.
Really, it’s a sad story. A story of the expectations, hopes, and fears that people bring to relationships, and how ego, pride, and fear can ruin great things.
But it’s also a 224 page book built largely around a very detailed tale of premature ejaculation.
I do not want to lend this to my MIL.
I struggle to maintain my composure as I watch her standing there, clutching the book and peering down at the cover.
Oh God, please don’t open it and start skimming the pages, I think.
“Um… you know, that one… That’s kind of weird book,” I stammer out. I’m certain my eyes are full of fear and she’s totally on to me. I’m convinced that if she smells my fear, she will demand to borrow this book. Then she’ll read it and be horrified, think I’m some kind of pervert, and demand that my husband divorce me.
With as much control as I can muster, I slowly move toward her and reach for the book. I desperately want to snatch it from her hands, to run away and throw it in the nearest trash can. Instead, I gently and calmly take it from her as I continue to explain, “A friend lent that to me. She wanted to know what I thought of it. It’s a hard book to explain. I didn’t really like it.”
This is a small lie. It made me uncomfortable, but I didn’t dislike it. I thought it raised good questions about forgiveness, about trying to understand other people’s perspectives, about how love can be so easily lost because of really dumb things.
But there’s no way in hell that I’m lending my MIL a book that spends 50 pages describing how some dude gave his new wife an unintentional pearl necklace.
“Are you looking for something to read? How about this one instead?” I ask and pluck the nearest semi-interesting book off the shelf. “This one is really good actually!” I babble out a description of the plot.
MIL takes the new book from my hands and is content to borrow that one instead.
I make a mental note to return “On Chesil Beach” to my friend ASAP.