Into the Tangled Dark: Jay Ponteri's Wedlocked

Morgan Vogel Chinnock

Cover WedlockedJay Ponteri is a professor of writing, whose wife, pregnant with their first child, discovers his manuscript detailing his fantasies of other women. The author’s debut full-length work and a courageous memoir, Wedlocked spirals around the emotional fallout from his wife’s discovery, delving into Ponteri’s inner world and dissatisfaction with his marriage. Marked by an often confessional tone and passages of stream-of-consciousness, Wedlocked possesses a wildness just barely held steady by a carefully crafted structure—a braid of the narrator’s history, fantasies, and the physical reality of his present life.

Ponteri lives a tangled reality. He weaves through a tidy American dream life—homeownership, picnics, child-rearing, teaching job, responsible and self-assured wife—but constantly slams into his more entrancing fantasy world where he and female acquaintances secretly yearn for each other, drawn together by their mutual depression and love of secretive behavior, freedom, the unknown, smoking (his wife wants him to stop so he’ll live longer), furtive notes, and emotional messes; in short, everything he feels cannot exist in his marriage. In the memoir, he draws these women together under one name—Frannie—and takes us through the wanderings of his mind and desires: “I love the shape of a woman’s breasts rising inside her autumn sweater. I love seeing her tawny fingers (or freckled fingers or long, bony fingers) curling around a cup of black coffee. Dark hair bangs over pale skin. O pink lips peach lips thick lips squiggly lips uneven lips! O buttocks inside black tights! My eyes seek you! My eyes see yours. Your dark eyes, your green eyes, your blue-gray eyes. What am I to do with my eyes?! My eyes cannot stop gazing upon the bodies of strange women!”

Through the web of responsibility and fantasy dart the threads of Ponteri’s past: memories of his depressive mother, of his father who left her for another woman and happily remarried, of the long-gone family house where he grew up, and of the early days with his wife, which he can recall but not feel. He revisits his aimless young adulthood, when he first indulged in fantasy to escape his dead-end cycle of bartending jobs and unpaid bills.

After his wife discovers the manuscript, Ponteri writes of the crushing pain she feels at this blatant emotional rejection—leading, as they grasp desperately at their marriage, to mounting emotional distance and bouts of “hard fucking,” which, he writes, “seemed to emanate and express our mutual anger . . . me angry because she was not a figment but an actual woman whom I didn’t know how to relate to or how to touch, my dear, pissed-off wife pulling me into her harder and saying, —Fuck me harder and me pummeling her harder and faster as if we could fully express our anger.” While Ponteri bestows a name (albeit the same one) upon his fantasy women, his wife remains simply “my wife” throughout the memoir, as if to emphasize the sterility he feels society’s expectations and rules have inserted into their relationship.

Wedlocked is not so much marked by a particular setting or series of events, but by a complex, turbulent inner landscape —a secret lair of desirous thoughts which resides in each of us. Raw, self-aware, and self-critical, Ponteri speaks to our dark places, the thoughts we believe we must keep hidden, particularly within the pressure-bound structure of marriage. He lays his longings out in the light and asks us to look. He feels shame and self-loathing for having fantasies that cause his wife such pain, and he fears for how they might eventually hurt his new son—but, still, he brings them into the light. In doing so, he achieves a sense of freedom, which, the reader surmises, was his aim from the start. “Unfortunately, there is a tight, toxic silence around marriage and its (dis)contents . . . How difficult it is to acknowledge that we have entered into such a flawed, fragile dwelling. How difficult it is to talk about what we cannot so easily name or what we may not be very good at or what may seem hurtful to others.” Yes, it is difficult. But Ponteri has achieved it to artful effect in Wedlocked, allowing us to enter his angst, desire, chaos, and truth—and inviting us to enter our own.


Wedlocked
by Jay Ponteri
Hawthorne Books, 2013
ISBN 978-0-9838504-8-9


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