Man and woman meet. Fall in love. Get married. A few years into the marriage, husband reveals secret tearing the marriage apart: he's gay. The stuff of Hollywood, you say, similar to situations seen in recent hits like "In and Out" and "The Object of My Affection." Far more common than you think in real life, according to the author (and publisher) of Pretzel Logic. Lisa Rogak, herself a "straight spouse" (a heterosexual married to a gay man), wrote this autobiographical novel at the urgings of her support network of straight spouses "as a way to get our stories out to a world that is largely ignorant of the issues of trust we struggled with in our marriages, and carry out into everyday life." Finding little information and support when her husband dropped his bombshell, Rogak made the dissemination of information concerning the straight-spouse dilemma her cause.
Pretzel Logic is one outgrowth of that cause. A novel that reads much like (and most likely is, at heart) a memoir, Pretzel Logic provides an interesting voyeuristic glimpse into a world relatively few of us probably had any idea existed -- the mixed-up world of the straight spouse. In this story's pages, we meet Emily Spencer. She's a cynical, cocky young newspaper reporter in small-town New Hampshire, defenses high against anyone getting too close. When she runs into Michael Rogers, sales director for a rival paper, her initial reaction to his overtures is bristly. After a few weeks of shared Szechuan dinners, their mostly chaste relationship turns (at Emily's initiative) sexual. Although sex clearly is not at the core of their relationship, the two continue to grow closer. Says Emily, "In fact, it was the first time in my life I could say I was truly, rollickingly, madly in love."
Emily's co-workers notice a change for the better in the heretofore prickly reporter, and she senses it in herself. A suggestion from Michael that she follow her dream of owning a newspaper prompts Emily to make some tentative inquiries at her hometown paper. When the ready-to-retire owner jumps on Emily's offer, the choice makes itself. She's pursuing her dream, editing the Coventry Courier, and Michael's right beside her as publisher. They move in together in the apartment above their office, Michael proposes, and with a simple civil ceremony behind the newspaper building, the two are married.
But not, as it turns out, for happily ever after. After a blissful first three years, Michael falls into a mean, distant depression when Emily's old high-school buddy Eddie (a gay man who Michael could never seem to get along with) dies. Michael, growing increasingly lethargic and uncommunicative, becomes something of an Internet addict, spending hours upon hours surfing online behind the closed door of his office in the house they bought shortly after the wedding. Emily's life begins to revolve around Michael's moods. She starts making coded comments to record Michael's disposition from day to day on her desk calendar, ranging from the rare G for "good" to the increasingly common MB for "miserable bastard."
When Emily inadvertently discovers an explicitly sexual e-mail from another man on Michael's computer, the truth behind Michael's depression finally starts to come clear for Emily. She confronts her husband, who admits to an attraction to men but vehemently denies being gay. As time passes, though, Michael turns more and more to exploring the gay community on- and offline. Emily struggles to remain tolerant and supportive -- they both still love each other, after all -- but finds her predicament all but overwhelming. Attempts at couples-counseling fail miserably when their counselor puts the moves on Michael. While Michael delves ever more deeply into the gay world, Emily discovers her lifesaver: the Clueless Straight Spouse Support Group. Her compatriots in the group provide an outlet for her frustrations, and help her unravel the mass of confusion that has become her life.
Lisa Rogak is mostly a nonfiction author, and it shows in Pretzel Logic. The narrative flow readers expect from fiction is occasionally interrupted by expository and descriptive blocks that fit in less than seamlessly. Take Pretzel Logic for what it mostly is, though, a memoir of a different kind of coming-out, and it's hard not to be amused, appalled and bewildered by turns at the comic and tragic turns taken in one straight woman's life.