The Sometime Wife: Taking Down Homophobia

CarterBrownThesomtimewifeThink marriage equality destroys the sanctity of marriage?  If you read Carter Brown’s The Sometime Wife, you might change your mind.  Alan Geoffrey Yates, whose pen name is Carter Brown, puts together his somewhat formulaic, but very entertaining, approach to the detective novel to use in a narrative that likely had not intended to provide commentary on marriage equality, but inadvertently does so when read through the perspective of a contemporary reader.  Brown’s most famous private investigator, Danny Boyd, looks into the disappearance of wife and soon discovers that among a cast of diverse and perverse characters, it is not the homosexuals who are ruining the sanctity of marriage, but rather, the heterosexuals.

 

 

CarterBrownThesomtimewife1Boyd is called to the home of a wealthy couple where a man named Charlie Vanossa as0ks Boyd to find his wife: Karen.  The nature of their marriage is where Brown highlights the flaws of marriage.  Karen, it turns out, was having an affair with a man named Frederic Randolph.  Randolph was about to run for political office, but his wife, Jane, threatened to torpedo his campaign unless he ended the affair.  The couple felt that for appearances, Karen would need to be married to quell rumours.  Karen was then awarded a healthy monthly income so long as she remained married.  Charlie and Karen then organized a wedding based on financial remuneration.  Jane’s motivation for marriage is then power and money.  She stays with her husband so long as he has political aspirations.  When those fail, she stays with him because he obtains a well-paying job that can facilitate her extravagant lifestyle.  Frederic’s infidelity has no impact on Jane.  Karen and Charles share similar motivations.  Neither is romantically interested in the other, and both have extramarital affairs.   They stay together for the money.

 

Elizabeth Taylor would have not only fit the bill physically to take on a role of one of Carter Brown's famous vixens, but she also would have been an interesting choice for this novel, considering how her multiple marriage could have been seen as undermining the 'sanctity' of marriage.

Elizabeth Taylor would have not only fit the bill physically to take on a role of one of Carter Brown’s famous vixens, but she also would have been an interesting choice for this novel, considering how her multiple marriage could have been seen as undermining the ‘sanctity’ of marriage.

In both instances marriage is based, not on love, but on money.  Every party involved indulges in infidelities.  There is no “marriage of true minds” that Shakespeare speaks of in ‘Sonnet 116’, or an admirable superlunary love which Donne writes of in ‘A Valediction: Forbidding Mourning’.  These marriages do no ‘proceed from the mind’ as Milton suggests they should.  If anything is ruining the sanctity of marriage, it is not marriage equality, but the fact that people marry for money and not love.  Of course, since dowries are an integral part of the tradition of marriage, perhaps these characters are very much upholding the traditions of marriage, infidelities aside of course, and that it is not marriage equality that devalues the sanctity of marriage, but marriage tradition themselves that dilute the value of marriage.

 

There are several homosexuals in the narrative, and the language used to speak of them is far from progressive (the homophobic f-word makes several appearances), but the presence of homosexual characters demonstrates that homosexuality is not what threatens marriage and also demonstrates the failings of the logic that homosexuals can be turned into heterosexuals.  Charles, it seems, is himself a homosexual, but marriage has not ‘turned him straight’.  Forcing homosexuals into heterosexual marriages, if one were to judge by the incidents portrayed in this novel, is not going to restore marriage, but rather undermine it (despite what Michelle Bachmann and her husband believe).  He and the other homosexuals do not destroy marriage, but rather, are there to clean up the mess when the heterosexual characters destroy it.  The ‘sins’ of the homosexuals, if there are any, are far less threatening to societal norms than the homicidal tendencies of the heterosexual characters who wear marriage as a mask.

 

 

Alan Geoffrey Yates, also known as Carter Brown.

Alan Geoffrey Yates, also known as Carter Brown.

The problem is of course that marriage is an antiquated institution.  People speak to saving the sanctity of marriage, but it is a patriarchal institutions that seeks to obtain authority of individual autonomy by prescribing how relationships are to me formatted.  It is not an institution worth maintaining in its original form.  It needs to transform to fit contemporary values and views on relationships.  Dowries are part of the tradition or marriage, but we see in the Sometime Wife that marriages based on money are not ideal.  If we are to reject some aspects of traditions associated like marriage, such as the dowry, can we not then reject other aspects of the tradition?  With a divorce rate that exceeds 50% in North America, it is clear that the institution of marriage is not held with the same regard that it once was.  As societal needs change, so to should our traditions.  Traditions are only valuable when the facilitate the needs of a society.  Brown’s novel makes it clear: not only are the traditions of marriage flawed, but marriage no longer means what it once did.  It is time to re-evaluate how we view the institution of marriage.

 

 

Again, the beautiful Elizabeth Taylor, would have been perfect as the star of a Carter Brown film.

Again, the beautiful Elizabeth Taylor, would have been perfect as the star of a Carter Brown film.

This novel, though, does not parade these themes in front of the reader, nor is the reader beat over the head with a political agenda.  A queer theory reading likely wasn’t even the intent of the author, but it is there none the less.  If an entertaining detective story is what you are looking for, then this novel will satisfy.  The beautiful, curvaceous women who typically populate Brown’s novels are all present, as is the dry wit and cynicism of Danny Boyd.  A queer theory reading it not obvious or overt, and so a casual reader can enjoy the narrative without being weighed down by social commentary.  The commentary is present for the reader who wants to dig into the text.  Whether a casual reader, a fan of detective fiction, or somebody interested in queer theory and the presentation of homosexuality in literature, the work serves as an interesting piece that is worth investing a little time in.

 

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Rambler About Rambler

Jason John Horn is a writer and critic who recently completed his Master's in English Literature at the University of Windsor. He has composed a play, a novella and a number of short stories and satirical essays.

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