Peter Herman is something of a folk hero. Marriage Is a Canoe, his decades-old book on love and relationships, has won the hearts of hopeful romantics and desperate cynics alike. Peter and his wife lived a peaceful life, but now it's 2010, and his wife has just died. He passes time with a woman he admires but doesn't love - and he begins to question the advice he's famously doled out for decades.
Then he receives a call from Stella Petrovic, an ambitious young editor who wants to celebrate the fiftieth anniversary of Marriage Is a Canoe with a contest for struggling couples. The prize? An afternoon with Peter and a chance to save their relationship.
The contest ensnares Stella in the opaque politics of her publishing house, while it introduces the reader to couples in varied states of distress: a shy thirtysomething Brooklynite whose husband may be just a bit too charismatic for his own good; a middle-aged publisher whose imposing manner has imposed loneliness on her for longer than she cares to admit. Then there's Peter, who must discover what he meant when he wrote Marriage Is a Canoe if he is going to help the contest's winners and find a way to love again.
In Love Is a Canoe, Ben Schrank delivers a smart, funny, romantic, and hugely satisfying novel about the fragility of marriage and the difficulty of repairing the damage when well-intentioned people forget how to be good to one another.
Emily Babson, July 2010
"I got everything," Eli called out. He carried his bike in one hand so its top tube was level with his ear and he swung a canvas bag full of groceries in the other hand.
Emily smiled at him from the middle of their apartment, where she stood next to the kitchen island. She had been examining a defrosting piecrust.
"Did you get cornstarch?" she asked.
Eli let their front door slam behind him, dropped the bike so it bounced once before coming to a lean against the wall, and came through the big parlor and into the kitchen. He kissed her. He smelled like iron and oil from his bicycle factory and then underneath that, the smell she'd given up trying to properly name and now just thought of as green olives, which made no sense. She loved his smell. He had dark hair that he wore a little long and his eyes were brown but sometimes she saw them flash violet. She let go of the piecrust and put a hand on his chest.
"I forgot that. I got everything else, though."
There have been times in protagonist Peter Herman's life that he wishes he had never written the book that made him famous. Marriage Is a Canoe, his self-help manual – masquerading as a memoir of the summer he spent with his grandparents when he was thirteen – certainly helped him earn the kind of comfortable life he continues to lead forty years after its original publication. But he's now more often embarrassed than flattered by strangers' accolades and admiration; four decades of living, not to mention his own long but imperfect marriage, have led him to believe that his words on marriage written as a young man were more naïve than sage.
(Reviewed by Norah Piehl).
Full Review (910 words).
Each chapter of Peter Herman's fictional self-help book, Marriage Is a Canoe, ends with an aphorism such as "Compromise keeps your canoe steady. Compromise and you'll never go in circles."
Publications categorized as self-help or personal development books have been among the very best-selling books for decades. Here are some quotes from some of the best-selling self-help books of all time which would you rely on to chart the course of your life?
Think and Grow Rich by Napoleon Hill (originally published in 1937): "You are the master of your destiny. You can influence, direct and control your own environment. You can make your life what you want it to be."
You Can Heal Your Life by Louise Hay (originally published in 1984...
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