I started writing A Better Man as my first marriage was falling apart, and by the time I finished a first draft I had a new husband and a six-month-old baby. So while I really had no idea what I was writing about starting out, by the time I finished I had learned something about marriage and parenthood.
The idea for the book came from a girlfriend who told me about a lawyer who advised her the best way to lay the groundwork for divorce is to pretend to be the ideal spouse for about six months before jumping ship. Apparently this guy advised all his clients to do this. I did not follow this advice with my own failed marriage. That story was much more haphazard and typical. We did about six months of couples therapy and then I sat on the sofa with a bottle of wine and cried for a year. Somehow during that time I met my current husband and got pregnant — bye bye wine! – and now here I am, the contented beneficiary of a totally unplanned life.
I think I was attracted to idea of Nick’s scheme – cynical as it is – because I have never been much good at planning myself. I never know how things are going to work out, and when it comes to matters of the heart I am almost pathetically optimistic. I liked the idea of imagining what it was like to not be that way. To be methodical and pragmatic and controlled – even if the aim was entirely selfish.
And like Maya, I enjoy a good regime. I believe – despite the mountains of evidence to the contrary – that we all have the power to change ourselves for the better by going on a six-day juice cleanse or resolving to master a headstand in yoga. I think the reason I persist in this never-ending cycle of self-improvement (resolve-persist-succumb-resolve) is that I am certain that even our smallest actions can fundamentally change the nature of our character. In essence, I believe that you are what you do, even if you didn’t particularly want to do it in the first place. This, I think, is the lesson Nick learns from his plan in the end. He fails, but in a way that makes his life inexorably better. He is forced to surrender and part with everything he was initially motivated to hold onto for dear life – and in a funny way, this saves him.
I don’t want to give too much away if you haven’t read the book yet. But if you do I hope you will take something good and real away with you. Not a moral exactly, or even a regime. But maybe just the hope that real change is possible – even if the plan falls apart.
Title: A Better Man by Leah McLaren
Publisher: Grand Central Publishing
Genre: Contemporary, Women’s Fiction
Length: 320 pages
What if the only way you could get out of your marriage was to become the perfect husband?
Nick and Maya Wakefield’s relationship has been in crisis since Maya left her high-powered legal career to stay home with their now 3-year-old twins. Today she feels invisible, anxious, and under-appreciated, and Nick has checked out of family life. Sex is a distant memory and the love is gone.
A workaholic and a consummate flirt, Nick has decided he wants out. But he balks when their old friend, a divorce attorney, shows him that as sole breadwinner, he stands to lose the most. Together, he and his friend hatch a plan: Nick will act like an ideal husband and father in order to ease the pain of leaving and make out better in court. So he encourages Maya to go back to work, spends time with the kids, and even takes her on a vacation without them. But with his cynical ruse comes a surprising change of heart. Nick is astonished to find his actual emotions match his act and now his marriage is truly on the mend. That is, until Maya finds out, and Nick’s world falls to pieces. Now his only hope of saving his family is to prove to his wife that he really is the man he was pretending to be.
A BETTER MAN is a sharply observant novel of the pitfalls of marriage and success, and how one couple must lose it all before they can hope to find their way back.
Leah McLaren is a novelist and journalist who is a longtime columnist for Canada’s national newspaper, the Globe and Mail, and the Europe correspondent for Maclean’s magazine. In 2013, she won a gold National Magazine Award in the long features category. Her first novel, The Continuity Girl, was published by GCP in 2007. She lives in Toronto and London, England, where she shares a home with her husband and two boys.
Follow Leah McLaren on Twitter.