A Better Man, by Leah McLaren, is a story about a couple who have drifted apart after the birth of their twins. From being two highly paid professionals who devote the majority of their non working hours to each other, they have become virtual strangers who just happen to live under the same roof. There are insights which any parent of a young child can relate to, although it is written in an unchallenging way which will not appeal to all. This is easy reading but with added humour and poignancy.
Maya Wakefield is a stay at home mum with a nanny to help her care for her toddler twins and their comfortable home. Unlike any nanny I have known, Velma is willing to act as cook, cleaner and counsellor as well as providing childcare. Maya also has a therapist and a personal trainer, an expensive hair stylist and a wardrobe of immaculate clothes. None of it makes her happy.
As Maya worries over the exact ingredients of the foods her children ingest, continues to breastfeed and share a bed with her offspring – an arrangement which has driven her husband to sleep in another room – she nurses a dull awareness that even when he is there in body, his mind is elsewhere. She knows that he has stopped loving her. Maya gave up a successful career as a family lawyer to care for her children and now devotes the energy and attention to detail that her job demanded, to raising them in the way that her parenting books and magazines instruct.
Maya’s husband Nick feels incompetent around his children and irrelevant to his wife. As the co-owner of a successful advertising agency he works long hours and is admired by his staff. He flirts with many of the young women and questions why he should not allow himself to take things further. He is unsure how his marriage went so badly wrong but he has had enough; he wants a divorce.
The problem is that a divorce is going to cost him all of the lovely things that he has worked so hard to acquire. Despite recognising that they are mere baubles he is unwilling to give them up. His wife is their children’s primary carer so would get the family home, and he would be required to keep her in the manner to which she has become accustomed.
I found this quite hard to believe. The children have a nanny so there seemed little reason why Maya wouldn’t have been expected to return to work if Nick and she divorced. She has an impressive career track record and has not been out of work for so very long. However, the legal advice that Nick is given is that if he wishes to minimise his financial liabilities then he needs to become a better husband. He needs to help Maya with the children and encourage her to return to work. He also needs to make her like him again, that the divorce may have a better chance of proceeding amicably.
The main plot looks at how Nick goes about enacting this plan, and then how Maya finds out what he is up to and reacts. There are few surprises but it is nicely written with a pleasing flow. In many ways Nick does Maya a favour by snapping her out of her obsessive perfection parenting. Given the way she is presented to the reader I was rather surprised by just how far in the other direction she went.
I prefer a little more depth to characters, but do not wish to pick holes when I suspect that this was never intended to be that kind of book. This is a nicely constructed and effortless read.
My copy of this book was provided gratis by the Curtis Brown Book Group.