Tuesday, March 23, 2010


When Two Become Three: Nurturing Your Marriage After Baby Arrives is a 2007 book on marriage and parenting by clinical psychologist Mark E. Crawford. The book’s primary stated purpose is to show parents how to keep their marriage a high priority, and to strengthen it, after the birth of the first child.

This is more of a marriage book than a parenting book, although it is inextricably both. Crawford begins by discussing communication and conflict resolution, then moves on to cover the pressure of the tremendous responsibility of parenting, and the new division of household labor. Much of this, however, is written in such a way (inadvertently, of course) as to create agitation and anxiety in new parents rather than immediately ease concerns.

Crawford also offers specific advice to mothers and fathers. But he only considers the traditional working-man, stay-at-home mom and two-income structures. Given Crawford’s emphasis on gender-specific parental attributes, I was profoundly disappointed to see that he has nothing to say on the subject of stay-at-home dads – come on, man, join the twenty-first century.

The final third of When Two Become Three covers sex after the baby comes, establishing a parenting philosophy, and dealing with the complex issues of step-families.

Crawford’s writing style is chatty and readable. The back of the book calls him witty, but that’s being generous. Crawford himself is pretty obviously a Christian, although this is by no means a Christian book, and his references to Christianity tend to be oblique.

When Two Become Three is not a long book (192 pages), but the reader may frequently find himself skimming. Crawford simply goes into a great deal more detail than many readers will care to get into – these will be, by and large, the readers who have largely non-dysfunctional marriages. This is not to say any of this information isn’t good – it’s just problem-solving tips for problems many of us don’t have.

But the fundamental truths here are solid: being a married couple first and parents second, parenting and administering the household as a team, maintaining mutual respect and intimacy, and so forth.

Maintaining a marriage after children is important (and, given the statistics on divorce in the United States, often neglected), and the basics covered in When Two Become Three are certainly worthwhile. For parents-to-be, this book is worth a perusal.


Monday, March 22, 2010

QUO VADIS by Henryk Sienkiewicz

Quo Vadis is an 1896 historical novel by Henryk Sienkiewicz. I am specifically reviewing Jeremiah Curtin’s translation. In first-century Rome, during the time of Nero, young tribune Marcus Vinicius falls in love with Lygia, daughter of a conquered barbarian king and hostage of the Roman government. As he pursues her, Vinicius begins inadvertently to learn about her Christian faith. Quo Vadis features a number of historical figures, including Emperor Nero, Petronius, Saint Peter and Saint Paul.

Sienkiewicz does a fine job of immersing the reader in the Roman culture of the day, and of developing Vinicius and Petronius, his two main characters. They are well-rounded, and their significant differences in personality contribute to a multidimensional view of the story. Petronius, the clever hedonist, is likeable from page one, but Vinicius is rather unlikeable, and Sienkiewicz does a fine job of changing and evolving the character as the story progresses.

Beyond that, Sienkiewicz’s writing has a number of problems. Supporting characters are not nearly as well done – many are one-dimensional. Characters like Ursus and Lygia are astoundingly naïve – at times they seem like small children, and have to be dealt with by other characters as such. Lygia certainly has little going for her other than that she’s extremely attractive. Also, Sienkiewicz’s foreshadowing is profuse and heavy-handed throughout the novel. The parallels he draws between Nero’s corrupt empire and the future Rome-based Catholic Church are similarly overt (but the comparisons between the decadent Roman life and the liberating Christian life are well done).

Pacing is Quo Vadis’s biggest flaw. At times, particularly at the beginning, the novel absolutely crawls, and the reader has to put in a great deal of work just to get into the story. Throughout the book, Vinicius does a painful amount of moping and pining after Lygia, often for pages on end. The last hundred or so pages, though, make everything worthwhile – Sienkiewicz generates and maintains a great deal of suspense, and they absolutely fly by.

Perhaps what is most impressive here is Sienkiewicz’s treatment of Christians and Christian martyrs. Here we have genuine, committed, upstanding Christians of integrity, who would rather love their enemies than retaliate against unjust persecution. At the same time, they aren’t perfect people – some are naïve, some are petty, and so on. Sienkiewicz’s handling of their noble, willing deaths is similarly noteworthy.

I have not read any other translations of this novel, nor have I read it in the original Polish, so about Curtin’s translation I can only say this: the archaic pronouns thee and thou have (and had) long since passed out of common usage, and whether Curtin used them to make the book feel more period or more epic, I don’t know – but their use is annoying.

On the whole, Quo Vadis is an impressive piece of epic historical fiction whose scope and story and treatment of Christianity overcome the author’s flaws. It’s one of those books that everyone should read once.