Author Michael Kun, an incorrigible humorist and student of the human heart, takes a slice of a young man’s life, a guy with aspirations of happiness, working and living with his girlfriend, and carefully twists and turns that life, the small discomforts and complaints, the minor irritations. The author adjusts the intricate facets of a relationship, where the need of one is not quite answered by the other, until a nagging discontent unravels any semblance of domesticity. Women are from Venus and men are from Mars, and they can’t bridge that distance if one holds back a vital piece of himself, a tiny wedge that ultimately drives them apart.
The first thing Hamilton Ashe - Ham for short - makes clear is that Renee is his girlfriend, not his wife. For some obscure reason, Renee has taken to referring to herself as Mrs. Ham Ashe and does so throughout most of the novel. Curious, I want to know why the book has this unusual title, My Wife and My Dead Wife*. With such entertaining text, it is easy to keep reading until I have accomplished my goal. Kun has a unique talent for phrasing and a wonderful sense of humor; it is hard to keep from smiling through the protagonist’s frequent misadventures.
Ham, whose name Renee pronounces “Hay-um”, and his girlfriend are hardly star-crossed lovers. In fact, from the beginning, it seems clear that these are two very mismatched people; the problem is that Ham doesn’t appear to realize their mutual unsuitability. An easy-going guy who just wants to be understood and to experience a simple existence, Ham is trapped by his own codependent nature. Renee and Ham are financially dysfunctional, especially when Renee begins making purchases for her quasi-budding career. But Ham’s lawyer brother, Carl, graciously writes out checks to tide his brother over until the next time.
Ham shares the details of his relationship with Renee and her decision to become a country-western singer, even though she doesn’t sing well and must take guitar lessons to accompany herself. Soon afterwards, Renee starts calling herself Mrs. Ashe. Discussing his dead-end job in a tailor shop (how he got there is another story), accompanied by the incessant Big Band music favored by his boss and returning home to Renee each evening, Ham explains his confusion over the gradual unwinding of their domestic bliss.
With pitch-perfect dialogue and characters as familiar as friends or relatives, this is a story about miscommunication and one indiscreet, childish mistake that shadows Ham's every opportunity for happiness. Through it all, there is a yearning, so endemic and illusive in human nature. After all, “life would be funny if it weren’t so sad.”