Grove Press
Grove Press
Grove Press

I Married You for Happiness

by Lily Tuck

“One of the most beautiful love songs in novel form you’ll ever read . . . Tuck is a genius with moments . . . Her ability to capture beauty will remind readers of Margaret Yourcenar and Marguerite Duras.” —Susan Salter Reynolds, Los Angeles Book Review

  • Imprint Grove Paperback
  • Page Count 224
  • Publication Date September 11, 2012
  • ISBN-13 978-0-8021-4591-8
  • Dimensions 5.5" x 8.25"
  • US List Price $16.00

About The Book

Throughout Lily Tuck’s wide-ranging and award-winning career, she has been praised by critics for her crisp, lean language and her sensuous explorations of exotic locales and complex psychologies. From Siam to Paraguay and beyond, Tuck inspires her readers to travel into unfamiliar realms. Her newest novel is no exception. In I Married You for Happiness, marriage, mathematics, and memory coalesce to create her most accessible, riveting, and deeply moving book yet.

“His hand is growing cold, still she holds it,” is how this story of a marriage begins. The tale unfolds over a single night, while Nina sits at the bedside of her husband, Philip, whose sudden and unexpected death is the reason for her lonely vigil. Too shocked yet to grieve, she lets herself remember the defining moments of their long marriage, beginning with their first meeting in Paris. She is an artist, he a highly accomplished mathematician—it was a collision of two different worlds that merged to form an intricate and passionate love. As the reader is drawn through select memories—real and imagined—of events that occurred in places as distant and disparate as France, Wisconsin, Hong Kong, Mexico, and California, Tuck reveals the most private intimacies, dark secrets, and overwhelming joys that shaped the lives of Nina and Philip.

Slender, powerful, and utterly engaging, I Married You for Happiness is not only a moving elegy to a man and a marriage, but also a meditation on the theory of probability and how chance can affect both a life and one’s consideration of the possibility of an afterlife.


“One of the most beautiful love songs in novel form you’ll ever read . . . Tuck is a genius with moments . . . Her ability to capture beauty will remind readers of Margaret Yourcenar and Marguerite Duras.” —Susan Salter Reynolds, Los Angeles Book Review

“Sweet, tender and compelling.” —Chicago Tribune (Best Books of the Year)

“[A] moving narrative . . . Poetic and absorbing . . . The final passages, as dawn breaks in this new widow’s life, are a rare and elegant affirmation of the transcendence of love.” —Jane Ciabattari, The Daily Beast

“Beautiful . . . Tuck produces spare prose that doesn’t sacrifice tension or emotion in its economy. . . . An artfully crafted still life of one couple’s marriage.” —S. Kirk Walsh, Boston Globe

“This slim brush of a book manages to accomplish in a mere 200-plus pages what many novelists try to do in twice the verbiage. . . . Examines the disguises and surprises that energize a lasting marriage.” —Ellen Emry Heltzel, The Seattle Times

“An elegant vigil . . . A poised, readable, immediate novel.” —Kate Kellaway, The Guardian

“Evokes so tenderly, but without sentimentality, what it is to be in a long and happy marriage. . . . Tuck has written an elegiac, original work which memorialises how two ordinary lives fit together.” —Victoria Beale, The Independent

“Tuck is a masterful, insightful, readable writer. . . . I Married You For Happiness took hold of me at once, and held me throughout with the comfortable sense that I was in the hands of a novelist who knows what she’s doing. . . . Has a compact elegance . . . [that] sometimes reads with the stark brilliance of a poem.” —NancyKay Shapiro, The Rumpus

“A magical, truthful tale.” —Huffington Post (Best Upcoming Books for Fall)

“Captivating . . . Absorbing . . . Strikes a chord.” —Marie Arana, The Washington Post

“Luminous . . . Spare but deep.” —Heller McAlpin, NPR

“Fearless and absorbing . . . What Tuck has captured so deftly is the essence of a bereaved wandering mind, with its detours and tangents. . . . Intense, brutal, and stunning.” —Joan Silverman, The Portland Press Herald

“The writing is lyrical and striking, vividly capturing the nature of memory and the way in which love, though never simple, is contained and proven in the small, indelible moments of our lives. . . . This slim, magnificent novel is rarefied by its heartbreaking immediacy, and the moving, aching stream of consciousness chronicles not only the psychology of shock and mourning, but also the minute-by-minute way in which Nine begins to put life as she knows it in the past tense.” —Clare Swanson, BookPage

“A breathlessly mannered, affecting new work . . . Small, vital snapshots make up two lives closely shared, and beautifully portrayed in this triumph of a novel.” —Publishers Weekly (starred review)

“Tuck’s crisp writing is a joy.” —Kirkus Reviews

“A full and satisfying portrayal of a marriage . . . Great fodder for readers who enjoy pondering life’s larger questions.” —Library Journal

“Affecting, original . . . Rich in sentiment, poignancy, and honesty.” —Brad Hooper, Booklist

“A tender look at marriage, mathematics, life and death, and the intricacies of love . . . I Married You for Happiness elegiac and joyful simultaneously—a love letter to this marriage and to the idea of marriage in general.” —Book Browse

“Tuck is an elegant, spare writer who limns her characters in a few swift sentences. . . . Her ability to work mathematical concepts into a literary novel is impressive. . . . For the unmarried, I Married You for Happiness will do what great fiction does: draw you into another’s life, allowing you to inhabit it vicariously, emerging with an increased understanding of something previously unknown. If you are happily married, your worst fears about your spouse predeceasing you will be miserably, brightly illuminated, the better you may see them in the harshly brilliant light of quality fiction.” —Diane Leach, PopMatters

“Tender and intensely felt.” —Adrian Anagnost, Focus on the Coast

“It is very difficult to describe a marriage—especially if you are married. In painfully slivered prose, Lily Tuck tells the reader exactly what it is like. Everyone will relate to this story, and if you are not in tears by the end, then…well, please don’t get married. . . . Both sad and crushingly honest . . . I Married You for Happiness shows in spades what it is like to live in the shadow of a genius. . . . A great love story, probably one of the most elegant I’ve read in some time.” —Three Guys One Book blog

Bookseller Praise:

“Lily Tuck’s new novel is gorgeous. . . . This beautifully poetic story chronicles a forty-year marriage with all its joy, pain, and quiet satisfactions. . . . I felt as though I were in the presence of a great jazz musician. Tuck seems to know exactly when to touch upon a tender moment in their relationship or revisit a painful one. She plays with Philip’s knowledge of probability and Nina’s paintings as recurring motifs. When you are not quite sure where she’s going with an idea, she manages to pull it back into the narrative again like a saxophone solo dovetailing harmoniously into the melody.” —Arsen Kashkashian; Boulder Bookstore; Boulder, CO

“A nuanced character study of a woman privately mourning the loss of her longtime husband . . . A celebration of life in all its grandness, pettiness, happiness, sadness, intimacy, and murk. While there is indeed great sadness within the book, the book itself is not sad; just human. Very, very human. The narrator’s private grief paired with the reader being party to her inner thoughts and memories creates a delicate (and perfect) balance of emotional disclosure. At first I was amazed by how often the book and her memories paralleled things that were true or prescient within my own life, but as the book progressed, I realized that Lily Tuck tapped into the base and root of how we function and feel within relationships—be it with friends or life mates; there is an emotional relatability. Reading this book was oddly comforting and frankly, beautiful. Days later, it still moves me, and I’m sure months down the line, it will continue to do so. . . . It deserves the recognition.” —Rebecca Fitting; Greenlight Bookstore; Brooklyn, NY

“Lily Tuck’s new novel is a gem. Sitting beside the body of her husband who has died unexpectedly while she was making dinner, Nina spends the whole night with his body, remembering their marriage of forty-three years—the early years as well as the highlights, both the good and the difficult. Written with honesty by a woman who clearly understands relationships and all of the intimacies and secrets that go along with marriage, this is a novel to be savored.” —Penny McConnel; Norwich Bookstore; Norwich, VT


A Book of the Year:
Chicago Tribune
Boston Globe
Publishers Weekly
National Post


His hand is growing cold, still she holds it. Sitting at his bedside, she does not cry. From time to time, she lays her cheek against his, taking slight comfort in the rough bristle of unshaved hair, and she speaks to him a little.

I love you, she tells him.

I always will.

Je t’aime, she says.

Rain is predicted for tonight and, outside, she hears the wind rise. It blows through the branches of the oak trees and she hears a shutter bang against the side of the house, then bang again. She must remember to ask him to fix it—no, she remembers. A car drives by, the radio is on loud. A heavy metal song, she cannot make out the words. Teenagers. How little they know, how little they suspect what life has in store for them—or death. They may be drunk or stoned. She imagines the clouds racing in the night sky half hiding the stars as the car careens down the dirt road, scattering stones behind it like gunshot. A yell. A rolled down window and a hurled beer can for her to pick up in the morning.

Reading Group Guide

1. In the opening pages, we meet a widow who is stunned to lose the husband she was devoted to and depended on. What happens in the narrative to modify this first impression? Also, discuss how Nina grieves: “With her free hand, she touches her face to make sure” (p. 4); “Again she thinks about those dark-skinned, Mediterranean women, women in veils, women with long messy hair, and she wishes she could beat her breast and wail” (p. 6).

2. Does Nina seem like a person bent on truth? Does she reproach herself for being deceptive? When? For what? Is she ever dishonest with herself?

3. How do Philip the mathematician and Nina the artist respond to each other’s fields? With respect? Curiosity? Talk about particular times when their worlds intersect. For instance, there is the Pi-reciting dinner, and remember Nina’s portrait-painting of her husband when Philip said, “I read somewhere that art is about navigating the space between what you know and what you see. . . . I look for clarity, Nina tells him” (p. 184).

4. “We never keep to the present. We recall the past. . . . The fact is that the present usually hurts’ (Pascal). Time is at the center of this novel. ‘she has no desire to think about the future. For her, the future does not exist; it is an absurd concept” (p. 32). At one point, Philip says there is no absolute time. “According to Einstein, each individual has his own personal measure of time, which depends on where he is and how he is moving” (p. 152). Talk about these ideas of time and how they underpin the book. Does Tuck’s persistent use of the present tense direct our sense of Nina and her view of time? Philip, talking about disorder and entropy of time, says “The arrow of time distinguishes the past from the future” (p. 124). Nina’s contribution is a graffiti: “Time . . . is what prevents everything from happening at once” (p. 124). How is the reader swept up in these notions in a plot that covers decades?

5. As a young child, “long before she had heard of solipsism, she devised the idea that only she existed in the world” (p. 97). Yet she has always created alternate realities. Was it her straw hat in the water, or her twin Linda’s? Was it Linda who threw the water down on the boy in Uruguay? Does all her moving about, living in different languages, create multiple lives too? And how about her dreams? What is Philip’s somewhat predictable explanation of dreams? (See pp. 165-166). In Philip’s cat-in-the-box theory, “both realities . . . can exist simultaneously;” that is, life and death (p. 121). Do Nina’s memories serve up alternate realities at the time she needs them most? What does alcohol do to shift reality?

6. “His hand is growing cold; still she holds it” (p. 1). The opening line, the fact of Philip’s death, is a setting we return to often, with Nina never going too far or too long in her memories. What does she achieve in her free-form re-creation of their life together?

7. Talk about Nina’s paintings and the importance of art to her. What is the history and destiny of various canvases? The butterflies, the straw hat, Philip’s portrait, the migraine series, the charcoals of Philip she is tempted to go out to the shed to find? Why does Louise snipe at her mother about dabbling, and how does she redeem herself?

8. “Where did all the anger come from?” (p. 180). What kind of person is Louise? What does she represent to Philip? To Nina? Is it surprising she seems ancillary in the book?

9. “You cannot change the present but you can reinvent the past” (p. 57). In her long night of drinking wine and reminiscing, does Nina seem interested in reinventing? Or is she seeking the clarity she wants in art?

10. Philip is aristocratic, brilliant, Europeanized—and he is from Wisconsin. “Philip has a healthy appetite. He will eat anything—rooster testicles, shark fin soup, garbanzo bean stew, crepes coquilles St.-Jacques, the daube de boeuf à La Provençale that she will cook for him one day. . . . An appetite for—life” (p. 186). “How can this have happened? How can this be? Philip is so robust, so healthy” (p. 41). “He is so sanguine, so merry, so handsome. . . . He is so polite” (p. 17). Do all of his gifts and energy make his death even more shocking and unbelievable?

11. Mathematics is at the center not only of Philip’s world but also Nina’s, as she tries to grasp the enormity, the absurdity of death in the room. How does the math work as a literary—or philosophical—device to impose a semblance of order on sudden, illogical loss of life and love? Is Nina making progress, do you think? When she tries to describe Philip’s work, the best she can do is “derandomization. There you go, Philip says. You’re getting warm” (p. 53).

12. What are some of the complexities in their marriage? “Philip’s assurance always astonishes her. It is not arrogance but a confidence, based in part on old-fashioned principles and in part on intelligence, that he is right and, usually, he is. For Nina, this is both a comfort and an irritant” (p. 38). How does she deal with this complication?

13. Dr. Mayer “tells her that jealousy sustains desire or that, at least, it arouses it, which also suggests how fragile desire is. . . . Not only do we need to find a partner . . . but we also need to find a rival” (p. 56). How are jealousy and desire woven through the story? Who are the women Nina worries about? Are her concerns justified? Do you think she provokes herself deliberately? Is Philip ever jealous, or should he be?

14. “Always, in her mind, she and Philip are in bed. Or they are eating” (p. 30).What are some memorable scenes of their love in bed or at table? Certainly there are delicious meals and fine wines. “They laugh a lot. Is laughter the secret to a good marriage, she wonders?” (p. 50). Try to recall some specifics, along with Nina, of their joy, including frequent verbal sparring and attraction to abstractions.

15. Tuck is adept in quick characterizations. For instance, about Marta, the housekeeper admonished for tidying Philip’s study: “Her look conveys both disapproval and martyrdom” (p. 53). Are there other vignettes that caught your attention?

16. Whose story is it? What might Philip’s narrative have been had their roles been reversed? Does he seem like a person who would have re-created his dead wife with the spirit and detail that Nina does?

17. “A chance event is not influenced by the events that have gone before it. Each toss is an independent event” (p. 26). How does Nina recall and try to use probability theory to understand Philip’s life and his death?

18. How much of the end has been prefigured in the book? In the final scene, has Nina found her own way to change the present? Is it fantasy or delusion? Art? ‘she is not religious. She does not believe in an afterlife, in the transmigration of souls, in reincarnation, in any of it” (p. 13). And yet there is l’heure bleue of pages 188-189. Caravaggio’s angel is art to sustain her. “She must be dreaming. It does not matter.” Do you see a resolution? How does the end link some of her main concerns, from who will weed the garden to how she can hold onto Philip?

Suggestions for Further Reading:

Tropismes by Nathalie Sarraute; The Blue Flower by Penelope Fitzgerald; A Sport and a Pastime by James Salter; A Place of Greater Safety by Hilary Mantel; Evening by Susan Minot; Accident: A Day’s News by Christa Wolf, Say Her Name by Francisco Goldman; Mrs. Dalloway and To the Lighthouse by Virginia Woolf; To the Wedding and From A to X: A Story in Letters by John Berger

The Unfinished Game: Pascal, Fermat, and the Seventeenth-Century Letter that Made the World Modern by Keith Devlin; Pensees and Other Writings by Blaise Pascal; Stumbling on Happiness by Daniel Gilbert; A Grief Observed by C. S. Lewis; How the Universe Got Its Spots by Janna Levin; Six Easy Pieces by Richard Feynman; The Black Swan: The Impact of the Highly Improbable by Nassim Nicholas Taleb