Married writer Jay Ponteri finds himself infatuated with a woman other than his wife and writes a manuscript to explore his feelings. Discovery of this manuscript understandably strains his marriage. Wedlocked offers readers an intimate, idiosyncratic view of a human institution that can so often fail, leaving its inhabitants lonely and adrift. The narrator struggles with living deep inside his thoughts and dreams while yearning to be known and loved by either woman in his life. For many marrieds, attraction to people other than their spouses has long been a classic refrain, and even President Jimmy Carter famously admitted to Playboy, “I’ve looked on a lot of women with lust. I’ve committed adultery in my heart many times … The guy who’s loyal to his wife ought not to be condescending or proud because of the relative degree of sinfulness.” Ponteri lays bare his inner life and in doing so provides all of us in monogamous relationships rich material to consider.
2014 Award for Creative Nonfiction
Oregon Book Awards
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There are many books being published today that are hailed as “daring” or “brave,” but for me, there is only one book that is daring and brave: this book is Jay Ponteri’s Wedlocked. Ponteri does not flinch; he does not cower; he offers rawness and honesty, the storm, and the eye of the storm. His long hard stare at marriage and longing, at the inner life of ideas and dreams alongside the life of platitudes and home repairs, gives us a rare and undaunting meditation on and interrogation into these lives. We want him to stay; we want him to go. We want him to have the dream and destroy it too. Essayistic, narrative, and meditative by turns, Ponteri’s is a beautiful and truly courageous voice.
- Jenny Boully
- Author of The Book of Beginnings and Endings
The great polish poet Czesław Miłosz talked about the importance of a writer to engage with his or her shadow. That is, often a writer puts forth a kind of hero sense of the self, a sort of announcement to the world that the person you are sensing beneath the writing is essentially a nice, good, person. Miłosz’s point was that human beings are more complicated than simply being nice or good and that the shadow part of us holds a rich store of truth, meaning, and in the end understanding. So it is in Jay Ponteri’s memoir, Wedlocked, that we find a writer engaged with his shadow, wrestling with it, losing and winning with it. This is a book that moves beyond simple individual honesty to the greater more complex honesty of human nature. It’s a beautiful, sticky, bloody, sweaty, feverish book that will be hard for some people to read. Those who do, though, will find that what they have imagined is true: our romantic relationships, or relationships with the lover, with the self, with the other, are as complicated and messy and ecstatic as the human body engaged in them.
- Matthew Dickman
- Author of All-American Poem
In our understanding of gender, relationship, and desire – there is always another frontier of ignorance before us. In Wedlocked, Jay Ponteri goes into the country of marriage and masculinity in a way that is freshly honest, insightful, and tragic. Ponteri’s fierce scrutiny of the degrees of separation inside union has not been performed before in this contemporary register. Bravely, he shines light on regions of the male psyche that mostly have been left in shadow. Wedlocked is a fascinating book that will interest all men and women who struggle in that sticky, lonely terrain between bonding and bondage.
- Tony Hoagland
- Author of What Narcissism Means to Me, finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award
Ponteri’s story offers the contemporary reader a fresh way to contemplate our country’s abiding love/hate relationship with the institution of marriage. We revere it; we chafe against it. We sin in our hearts, and our guilt depends on what the meaning of the word ‘is’ is. This is a new and nuanced contribution to an enduring debate. I welcome it.
- Antonya Nelson
- Author of Bound
Jay Ponteri is a brave seeker with a capacious and conflicted heart. Equal parts confession, fantasy, meditation and rant, his deeply private memoir is fearless in its exploration of dark and uncomfortable corners in his marriage. These beautifully crafted pages shine a light on loneliness, marriage, fatherhood and how we sustain ourselves in our lives of perfect ordinariness.
- Natalie Serber
- Author of Shout Her Lovely Name
Many recent books have been written, of course, about sex, marriage, love, men, and women. Very few if any risk the level of intimacy, candor, and rawness that Jay Ponteri’s book does. Very few if any behold the husband (in all his agony) with the depth that this book does. Very few if any expose the male psyche with this book’s nerve. None that I can think of is smarter about the uses of fantasy. I hugely admire Wedlocked
- David Shields
- Author of Reality Hunger: A Manifesto
This memoir by writing professor and literary essayist Ponteri shares much with the recent Judd Apatow film, This is 40.
I’m not sure if this is a good or bad thing to say but… I think this book is going to be polarizing, and it should be. Ponteri bluntly looks at his own marriage in a style that is both painfully dark and intelligently philosophical (after all, Ponteri is a big fan of folks like David Shields and Maggie Nelson—two self-reflectors of the highest order). Some critics will probably expect this book to resonate mostly with men, but I don’t really see it as anti-wife or anti-marriage. It’s a book about being human and about burrowing into our desires and how love can be a force (good or bad) in our lives. Though some may find Ponteri’s aversion to commitment an immature quality, Wedlocked frames it in honest, unsentimental language that is purely adult. This is an adult speaking to you like an adult. It’s rare that a reader is shown this much trust and respect.
- Kevin Sampsell
- Author of A Common Pornography
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.
- Morgan Chinook, Switchback
Sometimes filled with raw sexual ambition, other times quietly sad and contemplative, Ponteri dares memoir to go in a bold direction, with precedence on the intimacy between writer and reader.
- Renée K. Nicholson, The Los Angeles Review
Wedlocked attempts to articulate that “unsolvable identity of self” in the grand tradition of 16th-century essayist Michel de Montaigne, father of the pastiche personal essay. Unlike Montaigne, whose Essais run the gamut from formal to enigmatic, Ponteri does an admirable job of linking his short, essayistic chapters into a narrative about one man’s inability to prioritize his marriage over the life of his mind. His sentences come both scattered and controlled, and readers with a love for how lyricism can flirt with formal narrative essay will delight in his accomplishment.
- Alison Barker, Paste Magazine
Located at the intersection of desire and domesticity, Wedlocked reveals the impact of fantasy on a marriage. While affairs are hardly new territory for literature, it’s rare to encounter such deep reflection about a topic that is simultaneously joyful and injuring. By probing his childhood, films, fantasies, and short stories, Ponteri critiques not only the institution of marriage, but also himself, exposing the various ways he and possibly many Americans are unequipped for married life.
- Anya Groner, Bookslut
Few men up until now has embraced marital candor in a first-person narrative—to this extent—with the exception of August Strindberg in The Confession of a Fool...His insight offers an invaluable perspective on the male identity within a marriage today. Readers empathize, scorn, and reckon with the wholehearted suffering of the married writer who self-medicates with fantasy, as he attempts to free himself from the prison of his own desire.
- Case Daubenspeck, Bookslut
[Wedlocked is an] alarmingly frank memoir.
- Oregon Humanities
An essay is an artificial intelligence, a continual reenactment of a particular strand of thinking. Whenever the reader encounters one, it runs like software in her head as she reads, producing an experience of actually inhabiting another’s brain. Jay Ponteri’s Wedlocked is a powerful example, frankly painful in the intensity of its apparent honesty and capacity for neurotic exploration and self-laceration. Yet even deep in its own fever suddenly it shifts its lens to the Crusades. The perspective shift keeps the interiority from becoming solipsistic trick: instead Ponteri takes the self, in all its ugliness and capacity for delusion, as an experimental subject and puts it through the paces. Through application of intense pressure, this book becomes not just about Ponteri and all his quirks, but about marriage and intimacy, about America, about lived human experience. The intensity of this Jay Ponteri simulation is such that it’s harrowing enough to just be on the inside for a little while. In this dissociated, disconnected, fragmented world, this is I think what we want of writing: to let us feel, to let us live vicariously, to remind us that we are alive.
- Ander Monson, Oregon Book Award Judge for Creative Nonfiction
- Author of Vanishing Point: Not a Memoir