Title: The Marriage Box
Author: Corie Adjmi
Genre: Young adult, Romance
What It’s About: Case Cohen is a Syrian Jew raised in New Orleans in the 1970s. Her father purchased a gun in order to protect their home and their business, and she witnessed a man trying to break into their home, whom her father shot at the time. She shows the gun to her cousin and best friend, Tracey, but also takes along a VHS tape that has adult mature content. This tape is found by Tracey’s big brother–Big Sam–who then teases the girls into a truth or dare game with his friend, Hawkeye, and things get out of hand when Sam presses a hanger into her skin, scarring her with an S.
As Casey enters high school, she becomes part of the cheerleading crowd, while her parents’ apparent relationship turns sour. As part of this crowd, she continues to see Hawkeye and his younger brother, Morgan, with whom Casey starts a relationship when she and Tracey visit Hawkeye. It doesn’t take long for Casey to figure out that Hawkeye makes the pinatas–with help from Morgan, who doesn’t know about the side job–for the drugs that Hawkeye and Big Sam deliver. Things seem to go well with them, when one day Big Sam runs over to Hawkeye, accusing him of cutting him out of the drug deals that he’s been making. Big Sam then tells Morgan that his family has been dealing and everyone knows, including Casey, but what is worse is when Big Sam yells at Hawkeye for taking Casey around town doing deliveries like they were on some hot date. Morgan drops her off cold, and then tries to have sex with her. When Casey says no, he tells her to figure it out and then call him. They go on break, though Casey does not agree that they break up, and during that time he starts making out and dating Tracey, which case finds out one afternoon at a party.
At that party–a housewarming party–she ends up getting drunk with Hawkeye, and he takes her home, at what point they end up kissing in front of her house, and he enters her, which surprises her but does not bother her. Then police officer surround the car, shine a light into the car, and Casey’s parents see what she has been up to. The police had asked to use the house to stake out for Hawkeye because of the drugs, and do a drug bust.
As a result of all this, the family decides to pack up and move to New York City, put Casey in a Yeshiva school. And Casey hates it–she keeps asking to move back to New Orleans, and both of her parents tell her that it is what it is, and to deal with it. She makes plans to get into college and find colleges in New Orleans, and they tell her to drop the topic. At one point Casey finds out that one of her classmates, a girl, gets engage and as a result, she ends school early as the education system had found out that girls with engagement rings are a distraction to the rest of the class. She continues to tell her parents that she wants to go to college, only for her father to tell her that she will be married by 18, and they make a bet.
Casey does the best that she can to avoid the Marriage Box–which is a roped off area of the pool where young, unmarried Jewish women lounge in bikinis to show off for their future husbands, which she had done that summer for their move to Brooklyn. But at school, it’s a little different. She gets invited to an event with another friend from school who seems bored by all of the Jewish life stuff and the engagements, and this girl also wants something more. At the event she brings her father’s gun, and ends up pointing it at a ceiling to make a point before unlocking it and hiding it.
This goes around the school, and when she meets Michael, he already knows about her as the girl with the gun. The next time they meet, they start going out and sure enough, she does get engaged and married by the time that she is 18, quitting school and no chance of university whatsoever, despite her desire to go to school.
The two lovebirds live in Manhattan and travel to visit family each weekend for Shabbat. Casey is in charge of taking care of the home and cooking while Michael works. She eventually becomes unhappy with her life, and Michael wants her to have a child, but she wants to go to school.
During a walk around her neighborhood, she encounters a homeless man, Carl. She makes him food every day, that he appreciates and they talk–forming a friendship. At one point, she invites him over to her home, lets him wash and get dressed and even cuts his hair up so that he can make his way to California where it is warmer before the winter sets in New York. She has a conversation with him, where he notes her loneliness and tells her that she always has a choice, no matter what. At first Casey does not believe him, worrying about fitting into Syrian society.
But during the course of several dates, she finds Michael flirting with another woman, talking to another woman in a hallway, and during a date with her friends the Syrian men play a game of “who would you marry, who would you fuck and who would you kill.” Michael tells them that he would marry Casey, fuck Collette (his ex-girlfriend) and then kill the other girl. This along with the hallway incident enrages her, and Casey runs over to see her parents–who talk to her and tell her that she cannot get a divorce. She returns home later in the night, and gets into an argument with Michael, chucking books at him, and telling him that she is leaving. She walks out of the building before turning back around, waking Michael up, tying him up and making him listen by pointing a gun straight at him-the same gun she stole from her father that evening. She tells him that she needs more, that the marriage is not working out, and they talk with him at gunpoint. When she releases him, he makes out with her and they have sex.
The next morning they wake up, and Michael tosses her an egg, while simultaneously telling her to apply to NYU. She tells him that she already did, which surprises him, and he shrugs telling her that as long nothing changes in their house, he’s fine with it. As he leaves the house, Casey finally has a clear vision of their life–she will always be suffering at his behest, asking for permission for the things that she wants, because they are fundamentally two different people who want two different things.
She packs up her bag, stashing the gun inside the suitcase with the plan to drop it off somewhere that will take guns without questions asked. She drinks her cup of coffee, and decides to take one last look around, before making a mistake that may be the biggest in her lifetime, but she knows it is right. She packs up a few more things into her bag, looks one last time around the apartment and walks out of the apartment.
My Thoughts: Disclaimer– This book was an advance copy read from the publisher because of apparent similarities to Crazy Rich Asians in exchange for an honest review which is why it is being released after the book is published.
Boring. I don’t know if it was the way the book was written, constantly going between past and present, but it was so hard to finish and I couldn’t stay focused enough to read it. I honestly wasn’t a fan of Casey and her story nor how the fact that the book is labeled the Marriage Box, but the marriage box is explained in only one particular instance. The truth is probably that it was more of a story about cultural norms in Syrian Jewish society, and that the marriage box stands for women being trapped early into marriage, so Casey is breaking that norm. But I can’t begin to understand this at all, because there are probably some cultural contexts that I am missing here.
My biggest overall issue is Casey–who is a very weak character. I feel like she is too passive around things and also contradictory. She wanted to become a cheerleader, and she gets in after tryouts, regardless of Morgan and Hawkeye. But then she wants to go to college, and then the minute that Michael comes into her life, she forgets about college? What the heck?
I do not think this book has any parallels to Crazy Rich Asians in any way; it’s not even remotely inspired by the book. Whereas Crazy Rich Asians were all about the girl falling in love with a guy who was well off and dealing with his family who judged her at every end, but still coming out to be the bigger person and was actually an enjoyable, funny read–this one was far from enjoyable, with a weak female character. I feel like we got stuck in too long of a time with Casey’s inaction and indecisiveness throughout the book, and there is no movement of the character forward. That said the book would have had great potential, had it been developed more.
Unless you enjoy these kind of books where a character stays stagnant, don’t read this book.