In the Queue: A House Divided

When a husband leaves his stay-at-home wife and small children to move in with his sexy, accomplished coworker, a series of predictable events often unfolds. The jilted wife remains in the home and struggles, often bitterly, to keep life normal for her kids, while he “moves on”—to a brand new, more titillating existence with fewer encumbrances. It’s been pretty much thus in American life for years.

Alexandra Whitaker, Spanish ’79, offers a refreshing take on that long-standing scenario in her novel Leaving Sophie Dean. She upends conventional wisdom about how marriages end and demonstrates that there are better alternatives. Not only does the book offer a riveting tale with delightfully surprising twists, it may also serve to raise the bar on how people handle the dissolution of their marriage.

The book opens with best friends Agatha Weatherby and Valerie Hughes discussing their affairs with married men. Valerie is deeply in love with fellow architect Adam Dean, father of two young boys and husband to Sophie. Agatha challenges Valerie to force Adam’s hand and make him choose between his wife and her. Without a moment’s concern for the lives she may be messing up—other than her own if Adam doesn’t meet her ultimatum—Valerie tells him that he has 48 hours to leave his wife.

Busy with mothering and homemaking, Sophie is oblivious to the threat. Our first glimpse of her seems to reveal a conciliatory, slightly overwhelmed hausfrau focused on minutiae and family peacekeeping. But when confronted with Adam’s announcement that he is moving out, Sophie rises to the occasion with a power play that clearly demonstrates she is the better gamester.

With that move, the main characters are all forced to do things they never anticipated, and many of their subsequent efforts to gain control over their teetering plans lead to unexpected outcomes—readers may gloat!

Equally unexpected is the way in which Whitaker creates and then annihilates stereotypes. Early in the novel, the characters are easily typecast: Valerie, the villainess out to destroy a family; Adam, the self-absorbed snake; Sophie, the mousy, misunderstood wife. But by the end, they have each evolved into more self-aware, compassionate people.

As for Sophie, she may well become a contemporary icon for female determination and gutsy action. She delivers some fine, outspoken commentary
to her husband, and to her new lover, that many women (and men) may wish to aspire to. There may come a time in our culture when those finding themselves in similar circumstances will ask, What would Sophie Dean do? What would Sophie Dean say? How can I be like Sophie Dean?

Ode to Joy

For those who enjoy listening to music that sounds like it was created with actual instruments played by actual people, there is plenty to love about this latest 12-track accomplishment from Hip Hatchet, released in April 2012 by Gravitation Records.

The musical brainchild of Philippe Bronchtein ’10, Hip Hatchet combines self-assured vocals with storyline lyrics, creating a solid selection of engaging melodies that carry on long after music has ended. But don’t be deceived by the upbeat overtones of songs such as “Limits and Rules,” whose lyrics expose a darker story. These songs deserve a closer listening, and Bronchtein’s voice—from a young musician who seems far beyond his years— practically demands it. Whether it’s his light touch on the guitar, piano, organ, and accordion, Bronchtein brings a depth and sincerity to his music on Joy and Better Days.

Rounding out the album’s sound is a handful of musicians and friends, including fellow Middlebury 2010 classmate Charlie Freundlich on double bass, Alex Lewis on guitar, and Jake Nussbaum on drums. It’s no surprise that Bronchtein is a man of many talents, after all. As an undergrad, he was as much involved with dance and performance as he was behind the mic. He currently lives in Portland, Oregon, and continues to dance with a number of performing groups, while also composing, performing, and recording his music as Hip Hatchet.

 

 

 

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