Writer’s divorce stings LAT media critic

journalism, L.A. Times, mags

Some gall of Sandra Tsing Loh to turn her back on marriage! All those zany tales about parenting and she has the nerve to question the notion of wedded bliss? Why, her Atlantic story doesn’t even serve up juicy details about her affair! 

LAT media columnist James Rainey takes her defection VERY personally, writing in Wednesday’s paper that Loh’s case against nuptials left him dismayed and “oddly defensive on behalf of her husband.” He claims that her essay goes too far and doesn’t reveal enough, calling it “thoroughly provocative and strangely bloodless.” His issue: that she uses her experiences and that of a few friends to make a sweeping case against marriage without outlining the specifics of her marital breakdown.

Rainey really wants it both ways. He questions whether “the personal necessarily must become political,” yet clamors for more details so that — what? — he can better assess her argument? Make sense of  her marital breakdown?  He seems appalled Loh would mine her private life for public consumption, but that’s what she does. It’s just that usually she does so for comic effect.

I actually found her Atlantic essay bracing. Her radio bits and prose have always seemed self-satisfied; she’s very intent on conveying how wacky and boho her life is.  “Mother on Fire,” as her last book is prophetically titled, chronicles one comic adventure after another as she tries to get her children into good schools, often circumventing her kind, but relaxed, musician husband. Oh, and she also writes about her chronic insomnia, another tell-tale sign of her unhappiness in retrospect, but as per usual she makes a joke of it. 

The jokes are gone in the Atlantic essay. Sure she serves up telling, if disguised, details about her pals in “Let’s Call the Whole Thing Off,” but the self-satisfied tone is absent. Loh honestly seems to be grappling with the issue of modern-day marriage in the wake of her own failed 20-year partnership, melding  her personal views with readings from marriage books. I don’t share her bleak conclusion, but I don’t begrudge her attempt to make sense of it all.

Then again, my manhood isn’t being called into the question, so maybe it’s easier for me to be sanguine about her sour take. Rainey admits he “couldn’t help but feel the pain the latest production must have provoked” for Loh’s long-suffering mate. “How many times can you be labeled a ‘great artist and loving father’ and a ‘worthy man’ before you feel like an emasculated chump?” He further bristles at the way she depicts friends’ mates as “domesticated sexless drones.”

Strangely, he suggests that her marriage would have been better off if she had only moved to South Pasadena, as she once wished. “The little city where I live might not be perfect, but it seems to me that most of the couples we know enjoy much better than the joyless ‘companionate marriages’ Loh dreads,” he writes. Now, I’ve lived in South Pas, and I like it there, but the city has no greater guarantee of happy marriage than other Los Angeles suburbs. Suggesting it, Rainey’s guilty of the same sort of sweeping generalization he criticizes Loh for making.

5 thoughts on “Writer’s divorce stings LAT media critic

  1. I was a little surprised to learn that South Pas. was the home of happy marriages–I know plenty of people who got divorced, moved out of the big houses on Milan and environs, and spent too much time fretting in Khaldi. Mt. Washington–now that’s the ticket. The couple that struggles for parking stays together.

  2. Wow, Diane, the blog is looking good! The other thing that bugged me about Loh’s essay was that it’s not marriage that causes problems with people who have kids together, it’s kids. Whether they were married or not, splitting up after you have kids causes problems. And if you do get divorced and didn’t have kids, you can pretty much move on without ever dealing with the other person again, if you really want to.

  3. Wouldn’t it be nice if living in the right neighborhood somehow COULD guarantee marital happiness? Only in our dreams, I’m afraid. And Pat, point well taken about kids: There’s a lot of fallout from divorce when you have kids — even if you were acting as a virtual single parent for long stretches of the marriage, as Loh apparently was. (Thanks for the kind words, btw!)

  4. Excellent post. You’ve distilled exactly what I thought upon hearing this news–a shock to me, hearing via KPCC’s blurb that she’s going to “discuss her divorce” on Pat Morrison’s show–and then reading the Atlantic essay, one of her best, if saddest.
    I too, though, have ground my teeth while driving at some of Sandra’s cutesier ramblings, but this last piece was proof of why I still listen/read her regardless. I guess what I’ve always liked most about her presentation of herself (can’t be presumptuous enough to write “her”) is her willingness to look vulnerable in the middle of all the artsy the coziness, to look foolish as well as witty, and to more often than not be brutally honest in there somewhere–never more so than now.
    Again, elegant writing from you on this. Good stuff.

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