The Wedding of the Two-Headed Woman

An excerpt from The Wedding of the Two-Headed Woman

Nothing distracts me for long from sex. A friendly, intelligent man makes a funny remark, almost for his private benefit. He thinks nobody hears, but I laugh. For a moment shared understanding exhilarates us both; then I go further. I feel a yen to place my hand on his bare thigh, to see what he's like with no clothes on. I was single for decades, after a brief early marriage, and there were many men like that.

What interests me about sex is nothing dangerous, nothing life-changing. It's like the impulse that sends some women into stores that sell colored floss and kits for making stained glass pendants- and of course I know that sometimes those women can't refrain, even when pendants hang in every window, twisting together on their dirty strings, falling and breaking into the shards they once were, maybe killing the cat. Sex has mostly, for me, been less threatening than that, a reasonably healthy pastime, a form of arts and crafts that uses people instead of glass or thread.

At length, though, even so delightful a practice as sex begins to feel airlessly limited, a means of expression made clumsy by the need to include bodies as well as talk. At such times, I can be diverted by a different kind of activity: I like to put on conferences. Like patches of plain fabric in a quilt, unremarkable people look better in contact with others, and I look for chances to arrange them. In the seventies I ran something called "Women's Weekend." Later I persuaded the community college where I taught to host a colloquium, "What Do We Really Think About Race?" Most recently, along with my mother, Roz Garber, I ran a conference on mothers and adult daughters. Along comes an idea- ideas come while I'm driving- that requires multitudes (at least groups) arguing and laughing. I start making calls in the car, on my cell phone, then continue at home, buoyant over subject matter, forgetting that by the time my conference takes place, I'll have to think of bodies after all, bodies with their stodgy requirements for food, bathrooms, directions, and unlocked lighted rooms, bodies that may miss the afternoon session because they're in bed with other bodies, even mine.

I am in my mid-fifties, and I have long, blond hair, possibly too long or too blond for my age. I bear the last name, Andalusia, of a man I no longer know and scarcely remember, with whom I moved to New Haven, Connecticut thirty years ago so he could go to Yale Medical School while I supported him. When Dr. Andalusia left, I stayed. I'm not the only Yale divorcee who has liked New Haven, to the puzzlement of a departing ex. I liked East Rock and West Rock- red, striated traprock cliffs, which bracket this city- and I liked the dirty harbor full of oyster boats and oil tankers, and the Quinnipiac River emptying rather grandly if messily under Interstate 95 and into Long Island sound. I liked the decorous, well-proportioned New Haven green with its three old-fashioned churches- two brick, one reddish stone- its bag ladies and black teenagers; and I was amused by the way each man I slept with connected to someone else I knew: he'd gone to school with the last man I slept with, or his sister cleaned my teeth. The story I'm going to write down had to happen in a small city. Here, you're never quite sure you're done with a person; you never know how many ways the two of you will touch.


from The New York Times Book Review

Daisy Andalusia, the narrator of this quietly splendid novel, is in her 50's and long accustomed to the pleasures and solitudes of single life. Now a few years into her second marriage, to an inner-city slumlord named Pekko Roberts, she is still trying to adjust. Daisy lives in the margins of academia in New Haven, and her coping mechanisms have a familiar college-town feel: she produces a talk radio program on prostitution, joins a self-consciously multiracial community theater group and starts a business organizing other people's clutter. She finds this job oddly fascinating; as another character crassly suggests, ''Maybe trash is the new genitalia.'' It also leads her into the lives of strangers, including Gordon Skeetling, an academic who hires her to tidy up his archives. In his newspaper clippings she finds a headline that reads ''Two-Headed Woman Weds Two Men,'' and this becomes not only the inspiration for the theater group's play but a subtle metaphor for the transformation Daisy must undergo. Alice Mattison, whose previous novel was ''The Book Borrower,'' has an instinct for the nuance of small moments between people; she captures each subtle shift in Daisy's character with quirky insight.
Anna Godbersen

from Publishers Weekly

Fifty-something Daisy Andalusia sorts and organizes the clutter of her New Haven, Conn., neighbors for a living, a profession that perfectly complements her affinity for secrets. Married to a man she's not sure she loves, she becomes romantically involved with a client entirely unlike her husband. A tabloid headline she reads while at work, "Two-Headed Woman Weds Two Men," accounts for the title of the book, inspires a community theater production that establishes new and unexpected bonds among its participants and illustrates Daisy's dual role as wife and lover, or, as she puts it, a "woman who's good half the time." When her affair loses its initial momentum, Daisy must struggle to find purpose and connection through her work and weigh the appeal of a lover with no secrets versus that of a husband with many. Mattison's fascination with relationships, the perennial subject of her critically acclaimed fiction (The Book Borrower; Men Giving Money, Women Yelling; etc.), lies in their complication; indeed, Daisy may thrive on the "unresolved." No friendship is clear-cut, no dalliance entirely fulfilling. As the title would suggest, there are two faces to everyone, and Mattison captures each of them beautifully.

from Booklist

Mattison's innovative allegory involves one Daisy Andalusia--or is it two Daisy Andalusias? As the title suggests, Mattison's heroine is deeply conflicted. Married yet promiscuous, organized yet haphazard, Daisy is adept at juggling the various fragments of her life until she begins working for, and sleeping with, Gordon. While organizing his office clutter, Daisy discovers a newspaper article about a mysterious two-headed woman and offers this headline as fodder for her community theater group's improvisational play. As that parallel drama unfolds in a contentious manner, Daisy's affair with Gordon escalates until it threatens to undermine and expose her not-so-controlled lifestyle. Exploring her emotions through a disjointed, expository journal that she may or may not let others read, Daisy analyzes her past and present love affairs, defending and refuting her choices and motives, until she comes to a tenuous acceptance of her true self. With unconventional insight, Mattison captures Daisy's emotional angst in a disarming portrait of a woman at odds with herself.

Carol Haggas