Reviewed by Sandra Eliason
It was a literary Catch 22. Kate Nason’s husband had an affair with someone so famous that publishers didn’t want to name her. But if she changed the name, no one was interested in publishing it either. Her solution was to self-publish. The result is Nason’s excellent, page-turning, reads-like-a-thriller memoir, Everything is Perfect (Marymarymary LLC, 2022).
We know this story—at least the media’s angle and the major players—through the national news. Nason reminds us, however, that there is more to the story. “There are many sides to every story: this is mine,” she says in an author’s note.
Nason asks herself, in retrospect, why she ignored her intuition and married a man she couldn’t quite trust. The insidious ways a cheating man can keep his infidelities secret haunt her. Her second husband, Charlie, proposes ten times. In spite of the small inner voice that says she cannot trust him, she finally says yes. Her first clue something is off arrives the first Christmas they are together, when Charlie’s “old girlfriend” visits from New York and he spends several days with her, only to say afterward that they “broke up for real” this time, raising Nason’s suspicions.
Nason, an art historian who worked in the contemporary art world of Los Angeles has a way of pulling us into her memories, such as when she describes working for a famous sculptor at his studio. Although she uses pseudonyms, she employs a device that is fun as the reader identifies who she means when “Han Solo,” “Wild and Crazy” comedian, or “The Terminator” enter the studio.
Her husband’s work as a technical director in high school theater departments keeps him in contact with students, and on weekends those students hang out at the couple’s house. One student rises to Nason’s attention—a boisterous girl named Mallory, who is the person who would later bring down a presidency with a sex scandal.
Later, spurred by Charlie’s cajoling, Nason agrees to move to Portland, where she discovers Mallory is attending college. She experiences a shiver of danger, but Charlie convinces her it is a coincidence. Portland’s rainy winters slide her into a sadness she cannot shake, but Mallory visits frequently, taking care of the kids, buying groceries, and helping with dinner. She and Nason become friends, both missing Los Angeles, until Mallory gets an internship at the White House and moves to Washington. She continues to call Nason daily to check in.
Charlie is gone many nights and weekends because of his work. The suspense grows when Nason and her husband attend a Thanksgiving dinner at the home of his school principal. Seeing the interaction between Charlie and Cheryl, a student teacher, Nason knows that they are having an affair. But when Charlie denies it, she again decides to believe him, but remaining suspicious when he chaperones the high school spring break trip—along with the student teacher.
Nason’s admission of self-doubt, and her ability to convey to readers the mental gymnastics she used to convince herself that everything was fine, allow us to understand her decisions without doubting her choices. Nason creates scenes and descriptions that pull the reader in. Descriptions of her dinners – such as the chicken stuffed with quarter lemons, garlic cloves and fresh rosemary from the garden, along with Charlie’s favorite crispy roasted potatoes – keep us firmly grounded in her narrative. Her old pine table becomes a unifying device, as it accompanies her from LA to Portland, serving as a backdrop where readers see them eat their meals and entertain friends. The white princess phone hanging on the wall with a spiral cord she twists around her fingers, the vision of her padding up the block in her slippers to see a friend, and the music serenading from the stereo all bring us firmly into scene.
Eventually, Nason decides she must learn the truth. She writes: “Weeks of confrontations and his endless denials….and worse, his constant insistence that I was crazy, paranoid, that it was all in my head” end when she finds a Victoria’s Secret receipt in Charlie’s car, the items not for her.
Nason also discovers that, in addition to Cheryl, Charlie had been having an affair with Mallory for years. She begins to plan her escape, wondering how to extricate herself, until the day the story breaks about “Mallory” and the president. The reader’s suspicions are confirmed, and I gasped at the intersectionality between Nason’s life and the national news. The hints are there in the text, but Nason does not reveal the truth until that moment.
As the media surrounds her house, the way that Nason navigates the situation with help from her uncle, a media “fixer,” takes up the remaining pages of the book. The suspense kept me turning pages. How does one overcome the shame when the world knows your private sorrow? How does she leave her husband without it becoming national news?
As she analyzes her past, Nason says, “We’ve all made choices we wish we hadn’t. If we’re lucky, our poor choices seed our growth and become the treasure we carry forward to create our best lives.” From my reading, it is apparent Nason has created her best life with grace.
The dialogue in this fascinating book is sharp and on point; conversations with Charlie, with Nason’s friends (particularly when they are using Charlie’s words against her), and her uncle are authentic, and the scenes grounded in the reality of our country’s history. Although the story is specific to one incident, it is generalizable in its depiction of the ease with which women can be gas-lit and lied to, something to which we can all relate. When my husband saw how much I enjoyed this book, he also read it and was equally fascinated. I would call this a must-read book, humanizing an aspect of history we only knew through the news.