Monday, May 17, 2010

Staying True, by Jenny Sanford

Jenny Sanford's story fascinates me, it's just a shame she doesn't include it in "Staying True," her book. We've all seen the interviews Jenny held in the wake of her husband's, (Governor Mark Sanford), flagrant infidelity and shockingly lame cover up. She was poised, even-tempered, and graceful. She was the paragon of stability and calm in the face of a fatal crack in her home life, never mind the added challenge of navigating this path under the spotlight of the media circus.
First, let me address the writing. In the way of old-fashioned autobiographies, Sanford writes her story at arm's length, detailing events more as a running inner-dialogue than showing us how things were by recreating the scenes and adding actual dialogue. No matter that she had such great material to write about, the way she wrote her story did not make for riveting reading.
But the even more disappointing part was realizing that the story I had hoped to hear, one of how a woman in the public, political arena struggles with coming to terms with a husband who strays so far off course he's no longer on the map, wasn't the one she had written. In "Staying True," Jenny is way too good to be true. One dimensional, a robot. She meets each of her husband's ridiculous obstacles with never-ending patience and prayer. Not that I have anything against prayer, but if Jenny had showed us more of what must have actually happened in her story she might have rendered herself more human. And wouldn't we all want to hear the fascinating details of her experience, how she really did manage to get through that time, in the face such grandiose deceit? I wanted to read about how her perception of her husband changed over time, and of how she saw herself as this perception shifted and she saw the truth.
Instead, the tale is a simple one (and I don't think these stories ever are simple). Jenny is the saint and the victim, always "stays true" to her husband, giving him every possible opportunity to return to the marriage, always praying, reading and quoting from the bible.
Only once do we get a tiny glimpse of the rage and the lashing out that any wife must feel when confronted with such betrayal, as she mentions one argument in which she called Mark's mistress a whore. But this is one small drop of truth in a sea of propaganda. Like a diamond, every story has many facets. For the most part, here we see just one. I don't know, but in the story as Jenny tells it, I think even a five-year-old could learn to spell "denial" faster than she does -- denial of a full picture of a "wronged woman," and the wronged woman's continued denial of her husband's true (lack of) character. Then again, we all put blinders on parts of our lives, so until I walk in her shoes - and I pray none of us ever do - I guess I'll reserve judgment on that aspect of her story.

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