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“The Marriage Act: The Risk I Took to Keep My best Friend in America, and What It Taught Us About Love” by Liza Monroy
c.2014, Soft Skull Press$16.95 / $20.95 Canada320 page

The room was crowded, filled with only two people.

At least that’s what it seemed as the groom looked at his beloved: there was no one else in the room but them. You could see it on their faces, the way their eyes danced together, alone in a sea of well-wishers, seeing only one another.

So what makes a marriage work? Is it effort, honesty, trust, acceptance, love? Or, as in the new book “The Marriage Act” by Liza Monroy, should you strive to marry your best friend – even if it’s illegal?

Throughout her life, Liza Monroy says there’ve been three important men: her father; her boyfriend, Julian; and her best friend, Emir. She’d barely seen her father since she was six-years-old, following her parents’ divorce. Julian was in Manhattan, far from Monroy’s L.A. home and, though they were engaged, their relationship was rocky. Emir, however, was nearby ­— just three blocks away — and Monroy saw him whenever she needed him.

She needed Emir a lot.

They met in college. He was in the U.S. on a student visa, from a country Monroy calls Emirstan. She’d been running from her mother’s influence. He was gay. She is not. They became fast friends. And in the weeks following September 11, 2001, when just being Middle Eastern was cause for suspicion, Emir’s visa was about to expire.

By that time, Monroy’s engagement had fallen apart. She was afraid of love, but more terrified of being alone. She asked Emir to marry her, which seemed like a great solution: Emirstan was intolerant of gay men and deportation was dangerous. Marrying her gay best friend would allow Monroy to practice at marriage. Never mind that the Immigration and Naturalization Service disallowed marriage for a green card’s sake and Monroy’s mother was an INS agent.

But what, exactly, makes a marriage? What characterizes it? If it’s love, then Monroy and Emir had that. If it’s needing one another, they had that, too. Did marriage have to be about sex and babies, or is it possible to redefine it?

“The Marriage Act” should be a good book. Surely, it’s unique enough since it chronicles a gutsy, illegal act that, accidentally, turned out well for all concerned.

It should be good – and it is. Just not as much as I’d hoped.

With angst that would make Woody Allen proud and a near-inability to keep secrets, author Liza Monroy writes of stress, misgivings and sabotaging plans to keep her gay best friend stateside. That would be tolerable, perhaps even madcap, if it wasn’t so repetitive and fussy. Add in many blame-the-parents passages and a falls-flat attempt at humor within a lack of culpability; mix in occasional, bumbling sweetness and not-so-subtle lessons, and you’ve got a memoir that’s, well, passably OK.

I think this book is worth a look-see. If you want to read an unusual story and you can handle the irritations, you might like it. If you’re looking for something a little slicker, though, “The Marriage Act” is an I do… NOT.