Sally Ryder Brady’s memoir, A Box of Darkness, is a politically incorrect book insofar as it is full of a widow’s disbelief: “How could you, my husband of 46 years, be gay?” For the years that her husband and she lived together under the auspices (and privileges) of “marriage”, almost everyone with a job was “in the closet” unless they were activists working on Gay Rights legislation, liberation and awareness.
Sally Ryder Brady can sympathize with her gay brother-in-law, and can see with a compassionate eye almost anyone else negotiating “coming out” as gay whether they are living within a marriage or not. But, she cannot believe she could be “the last to know” in her own experience. This discovery is the pivot on which this memoir swings. Ryder Brady’s story, like many family-centered memoirs, unveils a half-century of repressed truths. Through the act of writing, she hopes to get not only her head but her heart around what she cannot at first believe.
The author is neither naïve nor does she lack cultural awareness of “the homophobic times” of her 46 year old marriage. After all, Ryder Brady is a well-educated writer, agent, teacher, and editor as well as the author of a highly successful novel, Instar, an illustrated book of adult humor called Sweet Memories, and two other books of non-fiction. The work is as honest as it is artful.
What Ryder Brady does so well is to bring the reader inside her bafflingly raw experiences after finding her husband’s gay porn when going through his things after his death. She relays her plight with uncensored candor; she’s one who feels her passionate life with a beloved, for almost half of a century, has in it many hidden rooms and unanswered questions that continue to haunt many years past the marriage’s (and her husband’s own) demise. Is her horror full of homophobic judgments? You decide.
For readers who want to understand read A Box of Darkness.
Reviewed by Publishers Weekly:
“‘It’s not hard to identify my emotions. What’s hard is filling in the gaps of a forty-six-year love affair,’ confesses Brady (A Yankee Christmas series) in her account of life with longtime Atlantic Monthly Press editor-in-chief Upton Birnie Brady.
“In 1956, 17-year-old Ryder met Upton when he cut in on a dance at the annual Boston Cotillion. Feeling an immediate rapport with the dashing Harvard student (‘our bodies fit, leg to leg, pelvis to pelvis’), she harbors hopes of meeting him again. They do, and in 1962, they marry. Soon after, Brady experiences Upton’s spiraling anger and depression, and begins scavenging for insights into Upton’s character (through Evelyn Waugh’s Brideshead Revisited) and proof (e.g., a cassette of Everly Brothers songs).
“The shock of finding gay pornography in Upton’s bedside table drawer, yields unexpected gifts along with pain. Readers will be captivated by Upton’s ability to resuscitate a fading antique carpet with crayons; make elegant clothing for his wife (with whom he had four children); plan and execute formal dinner parties; and dance a hypnotic merengue. Diagnosed by his therapist with narcissistic personality disorder, Upton, in Brady’s view, is both superhero and deeply flawed man; her memoir is as searing and tender as the life she describes.”
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