The Carnivore: Why Two People Who Hate Each Other Would Stay Together Finally Makes Sense To Me

Mary and Ray Townes of Mark Sinnet's The Carnivore are happily married but in October of 1954 an event changes their lives forever (or as I see it, exposes these two for who they really are). I was not aware of this but apparently there was a hurricane, Hurricane Hazel, that really did blast through the city of Toronto in that year, resulting in flash floods that killed 81 people, destroyed possessions and left thousands homeless.

Ray is a cop and Mary is a nurse and separately they work that night to save and heal the people affected by the disaster. Ray is cheating on Mary with another woman but when push comes to shove (*wink*) he's more eager to get rid of her than his loins seem to think. Mary inevitably finds out about this transgression and when she suffers a loss soon after she blames Ray completely for her suffering.

The book flips back and forth between that fateful night in 1954 and its surrounding days and a period of time closer to the end of their lives. Yes, despite all the pain they've caused each other Ray and Mary have chosen to stick it out.
The Carnivore is not particularly strong in some areas - I found the language plain, the characters a bit stereotypical (gruff husband with the wandering eye, self-pitying wife who tries to keep the home fires burning), and the comparison between Hazel's destruction and the turbulence of their marriage too transparent. What it does do well is navigate the subtleties of a troubled marriage.

I was really skeptical as to whether The Carnivore could adequately explain to me why two people would stay together even if they hate each other, even if all they have to say upon the other's death is, "Good, he is gone." But, there's a beautiful passage at the end that really got to the heart of the matter:
No two people can hate each other continuously for fifty years and stay together. There were times when it just didn't seem worth the energy that it required. And other times when he was considerate and devoted...I also remember rare moments when Ray and I caught each other's eye across a quiet room and regarded each other knowingly, regretfully, before burying ourselves once more in a book or the television or a whiskey or a chardonnay or, more often, in the deep wormy mess our marriage had become...
The reason people stay together isn't entirely because they're afraid of risk, it's also because nothing is bad 100% of the time. A marriage, even a sub-par one, has highs and lows and Mary and Ray found they could tolerate their hatred of each other because life's inconstancy would force them away from that hatred every so often.
People have told me that they really dislike Ray but I equally disliked both of them. Adultery is unfortunate but it doesn't have to be a deal breaker; a couple, through plenty of honest communication, can move past it. The central problem of Ray and Mary's relationship is a complete lack of honesty and both are equally guilty on this count. No book before this one quite convinced me how completely unproductive the blame game is and how enmeshed love, hate, regret, despair and complacency can be in even the most ordinary of relationships.

The Carnivore / Mark Sinnett / ECW Press / HC, 2009

Note: I received a copy of The Carnivore from ECW in exchange for an honest review.

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