Book Review: The Marriage of True Minds (Stephen Evans, 2008)

June 3rd, 2008 11:38 am by Kelly Garbato

The Marriage of True Minds by Stephen Evans (2008)

Save the Lobsters, Save the World

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(Full disclosure: I received a free copy of this book for review.)

In his debut novel, Stephen Evans has created a quirky – yet touching – story about love, loss and our moral responsibility to our fellow earthlings, human and non.

Lawyers Nick and Lena are the titular couple in THE MARRIAGE OF TRUE MINDS. On a whim, law school student Lena enrolled in Nick’s environmental law course, and by term’s end, the two had fallen head-over-heels in love. After they married, Lena joined Nick’s law firm, and the two became crusaders for human and environmental rights. In time, Nick’s seemingly tenuous grasp on reality unraveled, as did his marriage to Lena. When Nick’s increasingly erratic behavior became too much for Lena to bear, the two divorced; she bought out his half of the house and firm, and set up a bank account for his living expenses…which he promptly squandered on a “guerilla activist” prank involving 144 lobsters, the mayor’s swimming pool and the Minnesota Zoo.

In addition to costing him upwards of $250,000, Nick’s latest eco-prank is also threatening his very freedom. Enter Lena, who agrees to defend him in court – against her new beau, one Preston Winter. (Awkward!) Without revealing too much of the plot, suffice to say that the brilliant Lena succeeds in saving Nick from both jail and psychiatric commitment – that is, if he can manage to complete his court-ordered community service and mandatory counseling without incident. Given that the volunteer work is to take place at the local animal shelter, Nick’s chances don’t look good.

Throughout it all, the long-suffering Lena is appointed Nick’s supervisor/guardian by the court, further complicating their already complicated relationship. Since theirs is a marriage of true minds (and Preston is kind of a tool), you’ll be rooting for Nick all the way.

Rounding out the cast of characters are Ralph and Alice, the grim-but-dedicated husband-and-wife team in charge of the animal shelter; Oscar, Nick’s psychiatric attendant and sidekick; Sharon, Lena’s personal assistant and sidekick; Wolfrum, a geriatric Irish Wolfhound slated for euthanasia at the shelter; and Sancho, Nick’s sassy and anthropomorphized canine hand puppet.

In his press materials, Stephen Evans describes the inspiration behind THE MARRIAGE OF TRUE MINDS. When asked “How did this story start for you?”, Evans replies:

When I learned about the issue of euthanasia in animal shelters. There are millions of dogs and cats every year who are perfectly healthy and don’t have homes, and they are euthanized after just a few days of being there. I had no known about that problem, and I wanted to write something about it. I knew that if I wrote a non-fiction book about it, it would be a very difficult thing to read and wouldn’t have the reach that it would have if I wrote it a different way, so that was the genesis of trying to imbed the issue within a different kind of story that would be a little more uplifting.

On the book’s website, he offers this “Note to Readers”:

I don’t think anyone knows exactly how many animals are euthanized in shelters each year. I have seen estimates of anywhere from four to twenty million annually, or almost one per second.

This horrific problem requires not one but many solutions, I’m sure. Those solutions start with awareness, will, creativity, and money.

As I hope you can tell from the book, I have deep admiration for anyone who chooses a life of helping animals, whether they work in shelters or otherwise. There are hundreds of animal welfare and rescue organizations across the country that deserve our support. You can find many of them through online sites like Just Give. A portion of the income from the sale of this book will be donated to The Best Friends Animal Society and other animal rescue and welfare organizations.

Until we find solutions, our animal friends will sometimes need a good lawyer. I feel sure that Nick would fit right in at the Defenders of Wildlife and EarthJustice.

For more information on the problem of animal euthanasia, I suggest contacting the American Humane Association or the National Council on Pet Population and Study.

Especially if you believe in reincarnation.

The soul you save may be your own.

Evans has succeeded in presenting the problem of companion animal overpopulation as part of a lighter, more uplifting story. THE MARRIAGE OF TRUE MINDS never comes across as heavy-handed. (Though one animal shelter scene did bring tears to my eyes; rather than continue reading, I retired to bed early so that I could cuddle with my own five rescued dogs.) Overall, it’s a nice summer read – the kind of book you breeze through during a weekend on the beach. The “meaning of life” ponderings are an added bonus, as is the portion of sales that Evans has pledged to donate to Best Friends Animal Society.

While much of the book hinges on Nick’s mental health – or lack thereof – this is the only point in which I felt Evans faltered. Nick receives a diagnosis of delusional disorder from his psychiatrist, yet we don’t really get a glimpse of any actual delusions. Nick acts erratically at times, wasting his money and committing property crimes such as the theft of the lobsters, but aside from conversations with Sancho the hand puppet (which he may or may not actually believe are “real”), his beliefs aren’t crazy, just unpopular. Then again, perhaps that’s the point: a respect for the welfare of fellow sentient beings isn’t crazy at all, but perfectly rational, moral and sane. Maybe I didn’t see the supposed “disorder” in Nick’s behavior because I’m crazy, too.

Finally, I just wanted to make a note. Nick isn’t what I’d call an “animal rights activist”. Rather, he starts out as an environmental advocate (of the legal subset), and later on he also shows a concern for animal welfare issues. He never explicitly advocates for animal rights, in fact, he only goes veg (vegetarian) near the end of the book. (During dinner at Ralph and Alice’s place, he refuses a serving of meat. When asked how long he’s been a vegetarian, Nick replies “Five hours.”) The publisher, who found me through Library Thing, asked me to review the book, in part because I write about environmental and animal rights issues on my blog. While it is a very animal-friendly book – one I highly recommend, since animal-friendly fiction is hard to come by – it’s not an animal rights book per se. Even so, I think it’s a great pick for animal advocates. It’s also a novel that meat-eaters can enjoy, since the “preaching” is both lighthearted and focused on the plight of homeless dogs and cats (and who doesn’t like dogs and cats?).

2008-06-02 - Peedee hearts Wolfrum - 0016

Peedee sez, “There coulda been more Wolfrum.” Sniff, sniff.

(Crossposted to.)

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This review is also available on Amazon, Library Thing, and Goodreads. Please click through and vote it helpful if you’re so inclined.

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