The Use of Fame: Cornelia Nixon
In a perfect world two people get married and have children hoping to live happily ever after. Abigail McCormick and Ray Stark lived together as man and wife for nearly 25 years. At times you will read about their passion for each other and at other times, which prevailed much throughout the book their discord and the disjointed marriage. Living on opposite coasts did not help their marriage last. Ray is the son of Virginia coal miners who grew up abused by one of his parents. Abby’s childhood was in San Francisco in the rich and elegant Pacific Heights. Poetry is their passion yet Ray, now a prominent and distinguished poet has a part-time job at Brown. Abby teaches at UC Berkeley and enjoys riding horses and extravagant spending. This relationship is toxic as you will learn as Abby’s choice to accept this position seems to have fostered and set the scene for Ray to find someone to fill the romantic gap left behind when Abby moved away.
The discord, the fighting back and forth and the promises to remain faithful to Abby are hollow for the most part yet at times you will learn just how desperate she feels at 60 to not be alone. Eight years her junior he seems to have the energy at first of someone younger and although he repents many times and asks for forgiveness for some reason this graduate student that he’s fallen for wins out most of the time. Tory listens to him and wants him in her life and Abby feels helpless at times and rather than face the truth that her marriage might be over she falls prey to alcohol and pills. Realizing what he is doing and the texting back and forth hoping to rekindle their love works at times but in reality she finds some comfort in her horses, poetry and refuses to allow the outside world including those she works with to know and see the pain within her heart.
Flickering back and forth between both homes, dealing with their perspective jobs and coming together for short times at first seems to cement their relationship. Promising to drop Tory, asking for time so that he can decide what he needs and wants allows readers to know that he is self-centered and self-absorbed. Even his friends resent Abby and take his side making her feel like an outcast most of the time. Ray’s chapters enlighten us as to his perspective on his life, his friends Johnny, Gloria and her husband, while wallowing in his own misery at times and thinking the world dealt him a bad hand. While Abby relates her feelings but at the heart of much of this novel is money, her spending and the fact that he seems unfulfilled.
Ray we learn throughout the novel has a problem with his heart and at times gets checked out but eventually the word is out that he might need a transplant. Knowing this does not slow him down and Abby’s encouragement to see as they call him Dr. Death to find a solution, which he does not.
Each one relates their own perception of the other and how they perceive their marriage. Abby tries hard to remedy the problem hoping that she and Ray will reconnect but no matter how hard she tries Tory haunts her and remains a solid part of his life. At times it’s as if it is a marriage of convenience so that Abby won’t be alone and the times they connect she relives the past but does not always see Ray clearly in the present. Blaming the failure of their marriage on Abby thinking she is neglecting him. At times you think that he is a young child who needs pampering and constantly told how wonderful he a man he is and how much she needs him. Tory seems to fit that role.
There are times when I wanted to text Abby myself and tell her to wake up and realize that Ray was never going to leave Tory out of his life and no matter how many times they decide to restart their marriage she was being blindsided by her own love for this man and did not see the mist cast over their marriage that would never be lifted.
Ray’s home has to be spot on everything in its place and everything the way he wants it to be. He criticizes Abby when she falters. But, at times they cook together, take hiking trips and yet you can feel their relationship is strained until the rope that binds them snaps. Abby loves to ride and drive her Porsche and at times we learn that she spends much of his money on her own luxuries. Each one has their private cross to bear. Abby has lupus and Ray’s heart is enlarged and might need more than just a simple operation to help his heart pump the right way. Abby has huge temper tantrums causing her disease to come to the service yet the author never really dwells her on condition in detail. Ray having his midlife crisis finally admits that maybe their marriage won’t work, leaves, has Tory move in with him as Abby checks his phone one night and it all comes in perspective.
Leaving, staying, separating, filing for divorce while each one rethinks and over thinks their marriage and whether it is worth the effort anymore. For some reason Abby can’t let go giving the reader the impression it might be because she does not want to be alone and at her age she is afraid to start over again. While Ray finally realizes the first operation is necessary and the person that champions him is not Abby. Ambien seems to be her way of dealing with her denials and swimming in a see of oblivion allows her to wallow in her own pity and not deal with the realities that face her each time she and Ray are together. What Tory seems in him seems more like a father figure and a daughter taking care of her dad. Abby seems to use him as a crutch allowing herself to think she is wanted and needed by this unhappy and often disruptive and unhappy man. However, we hardly hear Tory’s voice and the only interactions are within her texts. Hearing Ray’s friends push Abby aside when she finally reaches out to them is sad. Learning that she had to sell both homes and move somewhere else was difficult for her and yet Ray comes to her aid making sure she has money for certain expenses yet throwing it back in her face. Abby’s use of drugs makes her appear at times disjointed and out of sorts. Blacking out from them while Ray finally faces his ultimate fear a heart transplant. Ray’s friend Johnny seems to be the model for what Ray wants to be someone with a lot of woman. His a poet who thinks he’s world famous and a character that is unlikable.
Can you stay married living miles apart? How did their relationship last so long? What will happen to snap Abby out of her dream world realizing that Tory is here to stay? Without each other they can’t seem to function each one playing different roles in the other one’s life but not ever finding full happiness and peace together. Abby finally files for divorce hoping it never happens or that Ray will snap out of his fantasy world and come back to her.
When is it time to say it’ over? What happens when Ray has his transplant and Abby is banned from learning about his condition or even in ICU? What doesn’t she know about Tory? Why does he feel obligated to her for driving him to work, taking care of him and even going to the ER with him each time he is ill?
Success comes to Abby and just when her publisher is hosting a benefit for Ray to get funds for his operation, his friend Walt calls with the news about his transplant. Banned from the other events to help Ray and no mention of her as his wife or even ex-wife she is chastised for trying to come to his aid and wanting to know about the man she was married to for 25 years.
The ending is not that surprising but more like enlightening to both Ray and Abby. What is the final outcome of their marriage? Will he survive the transplant? Will she ever let go and try and find her own way? Something happens at the end that brings her some type of closure but also reminds her of a love that might be lost. What happens when all you care about is how you can find you way into the limelight and have The Use Of Fame. Author Cornelia Nixon takes us deep inside the minds and hearts of both Ray and Abby with the peripheral characters choosing sides. Where will the journey take them next? The issues of trust, betrayal, love, dependency, hope and denial are brought to light in this novel where both characters are so dependent on each other that when the darkness from the black cloud that hangs over their marriage finally lifts will either one follow the sunshine to happiness.
Fran Lewis: Just reviews/MJ magazine