A Box of Darkness: Book summary and reviews of A Box of Darkness by Sally Ryder Brady

A Box of Darkness

The Story of a Marriage

By Sally Ryder Brady

A Box of Darkness
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  • Published in USA  Feb 2011,
    256 pages.

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Book Summary

In the tradition of Joan Didion's The Year of Magical Thinking, comes a poignant memoir about a marriage that was as deep and strong as it was mysterious and complex.

Upton and Sally Brady were a rare breed: cultivated and elegant, they lived a life of literary glamour and high expectations. Sally a debutante; Upton a classics major from Harvard, they met at the Boston Cotillion. He was articulate, witty, and worldly, and he danced like Fred Astaire. How could she resist? Despite raising four children on Upton’s modest wage as the editor-in-chief of the Atlantic Monthly Press, theirs was a world of champagne, sailboats, private islands, famous writers, family rituals, and ice-cold martinis. They lived life on their terms. But as time wore on, Upton, the charming and brilliant husband, the inventive, beguiling partner, grew opinionated, cranky, controlling, and dangerous.

When Upton died suddenly one evening in their Vermont cottage, Sally began uncovering secrets. As she went through his papers, she discovered that her husband of forty-six years had desired the love of other men. Her riveting, charismatic husband was not quite the man he appeared to be, and a year of mourning became for Sally a time to unravel the dark and unexpected web he had left behind. Hers is a moving and powerful story of coming to terms with what cannot be changed. It is also a story of great love.

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Reviews

Media Reviews

"Readers will be captivated...her memoir is as searing and tender as the life she describes." - Publishers Weekly

"Brady’s engrossing chronicle of how she faced both the facts and mysteries of her husband’s concealed homosexuality offers generous and enlightening testimony to the true meaning of love." - Booklist

"Sally Brady's lively and candid memoir reminds us that long marriages are not always tranquil, and that sometimes their longevity both amazes and charms." - C. Michael Curtis, senior editor, The Atlantic Monthly

"A Box of Darkness can be appreciated for the beauty of the prose alone. Or for going on the wild ride that this marriage was, with its alternating heady romance and abject cruelty... . I loved this book." - Elizabeth Berg, New York Times bestselling author of Home Safe

"Sally Brady has written a tremendously affecting account not just of her marriage - at once painful, beautiful and profound - but also of a particularly evocative and important era in American letters. The writing is clear and simple and dazzling, and the story is impossible to put down." - Sebastian Junger, international best selling author of The Perfect Storm

"This remarkably candid exploration of straight-girl-marries-secretly-gay-man reveals the layers of frustration, adoration and joy layered into a 47-year marriage. Buy two copies - one for yourself and one for your best friend." - Leslie Morgan Steiner, author of the New York Times bestseller Crazy Love  

"A Box of Darkness is passionate in its comprehension that the greatest of human loves is never only a romance novel but also, inevitably, a mystery play ..." - Gregory Maguire, author of Wicked

"Much like Jeannette Walls' The Glass Castle, this moving memoir is an absolute page-turner. Full of secrets and some tragedy, it also sings with glamour and romance. Ultimately, this is a story of love and redemption." - Laurie Horowitz, author of The Family Fortune

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Reader Reviews

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Rated 5 of 5 of 5 by Sandra
The Rich Are Different From You and Me
This memoir is beautifully written...no question about it. But...I wonder if others who have read the book feel the same as I, that although a brutal honesty reigned throughout, much was left unspoken. Upton's character left much to be desired as far as I am concerned...other than his homosexuality and alcoholism. Those two factors alone would be enough to end a marriage for me. However, besides those two compelling flaws...this man was a total snob, a Harvard graduate who never made the big bucks but tried to live as though he had. A poor manager of finances who when he did get his hands on some money squandered it on frivolity. Never even owned a house? A Harvard graduate with a wife and four children, and throughout a 46 year marriage he never provided them with a home to call their own? No...they always rented according to Sally and he also left her $70,000. in debt! My point being that over the many years of their marriage they spent a lot of money on booze, entertaining, private schools for their children, etc. Smacks of what the rich or ''wannabee'' rich social climbers of this world all do and she was an enabler to this through and through...her society background demanded it. This couple was never about to sacrifice their status in society...what?...and become ordinary like you and me...never...unthinkable! As the saying goes, ''The rich are different from you and me.'' With his constant blustering of qouting Shakespeare, Homer, etc., it made him feel greatly superior to others. I've known people of this ilk and while admirable the first time you are subjected to their literary spiels, over time they become a boor...all flash and no substance. And that in the end is what Upton was...a sham...as was the marriage...his deep adherence to Catholicisim (totally hypocritical) his homosexuality, his alcoholism, his treatment of his wife and children, and above all his arrogance toward all who surrounded him.

Rated 5 of 5 of 5 by Diane S
a Box of Darkness
While I was reading the first half of the book I thought Sally Brady was either stupid or a saint. Upton Brady was in turn either delightful to be around or destructive. But by the end of the book I applauded her courage in staying in a marriage that was difficult to say the least and in finding a way to get her husband to accept help for his problems, while finding herself and helping her come to terms with her marriage. She loved him with an unconditional love and it is just sad that he was incapable of knowing or feeling this.

Rated 2 of 5 of 5 by Nancy C. (Overland Park,
A Box of Darkness: the Story of a Marriage
Sally Ryder Brady has written a book which is both confusing and very confused. It is confusing because even at the end the reader is not certain whether Mrs. Brady knew, on some level, that her husband Upton Brady was homosexual or not. It is confused because there is no pattern or continuity in her tale of woe. Mrs. Brady chose the low road and by doing so robbed herself of dignity and her children of a decent family life. However, in Mrs. Brady's defense, she followed her heart and made the best of a bad bargain.

Rated 5 of 5 of 5 by Sandra E. (Bend, OR)
A Box of Darkness
This book is a love story - not only from the standpoint of a wife/mother of a couple who were beautiful and wealthy "golden children" of the Brahmin upper classes in that sparkling segment of 1930's America, but of fierce introspection and courageous change and transcendence.

It's the story of the maternal devotion of an impeccably educated and dynamic mother who creates a necessary parallel universe for herself and her four gifted children, whose safety she guards tenaciously from their larger-than-life father, himself pursued by compulsively destructive demons.

Before words like "codependence" and "enabling" and "enmeshment" and "emotional abandonment" were part of our everyday vocabulary, Sally Ryder Brady was leading a life in which her natural and very considerable resourcefulness equipped her to survive all the above, while projecting a montage of secure and happy family life which dazzled observers.

Her brilliant and handsome husband - who appears to have been the quintessential Renaissance Man - harbored dark secrets. Sally literally uncovered them after his death.

Her time of grieving not only the loss of her charismatic husband to death - but of the "dream" which their marriage had embodied in its external glamour to others - and to Sally - portrays an intensely courageous and personal journey and metamorphosis during which Sally "comes home to herself".

This book was written and published with uncommon bravery; it has beautiful prose and dialogue which captivates from page one. I would thoroughly recommend it for book groups. A favorite book for me of the past decade.

Rated 4 of 5 of 5 by book lover (Newark, CA)
Thought provoking
I didn't like this book at first. I felt the author was in denial. However, upon reflection I believe she beautifully described the many convolutions, denials, and complexities of a marriage, especially one that began in the 1960's when women's options were limited. Every time I read of alcoholism I am reminded of its destructive force on the lives of those it touches. I wish she had discussed what she did to protect her children. Are they happy adults or did they succumb to the multi-generational progression and become alcoholic themselves?

Rated 4 of 5 of 5 by Marie A. (Warner, NH)
A BOX OF DARKNESS
A poignant, compelling memoir which allows the reader to revisit the ever haunting question: "Does one ever really know another person" along with the ever present human frailty of ignoring the truth about those whom we love until we are forced to face stark realities.

I commend the author for allowing her readers to eavesdrop into her complex, painful marriage and search for truths. This was a compelling yet difficult read.

...19 more reader reviews

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Sally Ryder Brady, a writer, agent, teacher, and editor, is the author of a highly successful novel, Instar (1976), an illustrated book of adult humor called Sweet Memories, and two books of non-fiction, A Yankee Christmas, Volumes I and II.

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