Summary and book reviews of Love Is a Canoe by Ben Schrank

Love Is a Canoe

By Ben Schrank

Love Is a Canoe
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  • Hardcover: Jan 2013,
    352 pages.
    Paperback: Jan 2014,
    352 pages.

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Book Reviewed by:
Norah Piehl

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About this Book

Book Summary

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."

"...

Please be aware that this discussion guide may contain spoilers!
  1. How did your impressions of Eli and Emily shift throughout the novel? How does their marriage compare with Peter and Lisa's?

  2. What does the novel say about love in the twenty-first century? Have expectations for relationships changed very much since the 1960s and '70s?

  3. How were Emily and her sister, Sherry, affected by their mother's experience as a wife?

  4. Discuss Marriage Is a Canoe as if you had chosen it for your book group. Is Peter's advice relevant to your situation? What inspiration can you take from his grandparents Hank and Bess? What metaphors, besides a canoe, would you use for marriage?

  5. Peter and Helena talk candidly about the illusions and untested advice contained in Marriage Is a Canoe. Do ...
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Reviews

BookBrowse

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 Members Only (910 words).

Media Reviews
The New York Times Book Review

Schrank has done something here that may sound impossible: He’s written a funny novel about publishing that is not caustic but optimistic, not biting but bighearted—a story about the delusions with which self-aware, smart people are all too willing to live in order to avoid the painful (yet entertaining) upheaval that comes with truth.

The Boston Globe

What results when Emily and her self-satisfied husband turn up at Herman’s lakeside cabin is expertly wrought farce—Schrank skewers the publishing industry and modern relationship talk, while somehow still making us care about the fate of this wounded young marriage. His portrayal of present-day Brooklyn, with its artisanal businesses and self-conscious foodways, may someday feel as nostalgic as Herman’s sepia-tinged memories of paddling a canoe with the ever-wise Pop.

Vogue

A crackling sendup of book-marketing schemes and an inquiry into twenty-first-century togetherness.

People

Peter Herman’s marriage manual is a classic, but what does he really know about love? Whip-smart and highly entertaining.

Kirkus Reviews

A wise imagining of modern-day love, unromantic but never cynical.

Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. The honesty doled out as events unspool is bracing and frank, and give these characters added depth and wisdom.

Author Blurb A. M. Homes, author of May We Be Forgiven and This Book Will Save Your Life
Love Is a Canoe captures the most essential difficulties of marriage and commitment—our fears of love and loss. A brilliant book of do-overs and second chances, Schrank’s novel is mordantly funny and an all-too-real meditation on modern life.

Author Blurb Daniel Handler, author of Why We Broke Up
Love Is a Canoe takes a good look at the world of self-help and both mocks and embraces our dearest and corniest desires. Ben Schrank’s terrific new novel is a real self-help book, and you should help yourself to it.

Author Blurb Laura Lippman, author of And When She Was Good and The Most Dangerous Thing
Funny, tender, wholly original—it’s as if all the good fairies came to its christening (story, dialogue, character, heart). I loved it.

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Pick Your Favorite Best Selling Self-Help Book Quote

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 RichThink 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 LifeYou Can Heal Your Life by Louise Hay (originally published in 1984...

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