In the opening scene of Unmarry Me, two lusty heterosexuals, Ruby and Mark, are celebrating their two-year wedding anniversary. (“I love how you start your order with dessert, Rube.” “I love how you look in that shirt.”)
But a shadow is cast over the evening when our lovers’ thoughts turn to Ruby’s sister, Peta, who is gay and barred from enjoying marital bliss with her own beloved, BJ. That’s when Ruby hatches a plan for a protest stunt: she and Mark will separate and divorce until gay people can marry too.
The seeds of the “Unmarry Me” campaign are sown and the movement quickly gains momentum, with T-shirts, badges, flash mobs, and other straight couples vowing to divorce in solidarity. Can Ruby and Mark survive the ordeal, and the attention, with their love intact?
Unmarry Me is Nicki Reed’s second book and features characters from her debut novel, Unzipped (2012). Her debut was praised for its romance and humour and received attention for its saucy lesbian sex scenes. In Unmarry Me the romance and humour are combined not with steamy rude bits but with queasy politics.
You don’t go to romantic comedy for a nuanced take on contemporary political issues and with its slapstick set pieces and madcap stakeout scenes, Unmarry Me is supposed to be frothy and fun. But that shouldn’t excuse the author from showing some sensitivity to the cultural context into which her book arrives.
The naivety of Unmarry Me is jarring. The cast is divided into big-hearted, gay-loving goodies and cartoonish, bigoted baddies. There’s a patronising presumption of gay victimhood throughout – Ruby is, at one point, congratulated by another character for standing up for the “little guy”. Ruby’s gay sister voices some objections to the campaign but these quickly drown in the narrative. The central couple seems to belong to another era. “We’ve brought new attention to the marriage-equality debate,” Mark says. “If it happened in our lifetime it was always going to be a bonus.”
The humour in Unmarry Me doesn’t quite compensate for these shortcomings. Reed plays the leading lady’s save-the-whales righteousness for laughs, but the comedy is strained, and it’s hard from the start to cheer our champ on. There’s something a bit odd, after all, about same-sex discrimination serving as a plot device in the love story of two fiercely benevolent heterosexuals. SR
Text, 288pp, $29.99
This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on Dec 5, 2015 as "Nicki Reed, Unmarry Me". Subscribe here.