So鈥 how many weddings are you invited to this year? We鈥檙e about to open wedding season, and as you watch your friends and relatives (and possibly even yourself) get hitched, it鈥檚 a good time to think about both the positives and negatives of pledging yourself to another person. Will you grow and change for the better, together? Or will you lose yourself? As the two novels and one memoir in this week鈥檚 book club amply prove, marriage can be a refuge and source of strength鈥 or it can be a source of stress and turmoil. Read on for the joys and pain that can come from the biggest commitment that many of us will make.

1. Standard Deviation by Katherine Heiny ($10):Standard Deviation, the first novel from an accomplished short story writer, shows us the difference between a marriage that works and a marriage that doesn鈥檛, but it also shows that any relationship has challenges. Graham Cavanaugh had a stressful first marriage to Elspeth, but now his life is much better with his long-term relationship with Audra. Audra is the light of his life, but also the life of the party, which can be more than a little exhausting. Graham finds himself both appreciative of and tired by his booming social life with his spontaneous wife, and the 鈥減arallel universes鈥 they seem to inhabit; he can鈥檛 help but wonder whether he鈥檚 made an excellent choice and the grass always looks greener on the other side, or if the grass actually wasn鈥檛 greener, and he鈥檚 made a huge mistake.

What makes all of this worse is that Audra has decided to become friends with Elspeth, which seems to Graham to be unnecessary and potentially dangerous. The trials and tribulations faced by Audra and Graham (and their 10-year-old son, Matthew, who has Asperger鈥檚 and is a whiz at origami) include your standard slate of minor marital issues, but are all handled with grace and aplomb by the delightful and relatable characters, who, just like the rest of us, make it up as they go along.

鈥淭his was marriage: you started out thinking you鈥檇 married the most interesting person in all the world and twelve years later, your head was full of useless hair facts. Of course, there was other stuff in there 鈥 some milestones, having a baby, buying a house 鈥 but that was basically the essence of it,鈥 writes Heiny. Wry observations like these, plus a lovably loopy cast, makes this a fun read about the relationships that define us.

2. Ruthless River: Love and Survival by Raft on the Amazon鈥檚 Relentless Madre de Dios by Holly Conklin FitzGerald ($16): It鈥檚 been said by many that true love can get you through the worst trials. A 2006 study at the University of Virginia, for example, discovered that women in happy, committed relationships felt measurably less anxiety and pain when enduring electric shocks to the ankle simply by holding their partner鈥檚 hand. Adversity can bring out the best or worst in a marriage, and this true story shows that Fitzgerald and her husband certainly had their share of adversity early on.

In 1973, Holly and Fitz FitzGerald were in the middle of a year-long world-traveling honeymoon (that they were documenting for Fitz鈥檚 newspaper) when disaster struck. The couple was lucky to survive a terrifying plane crash but found themselves on their own in a remote penal colony in Peru. There was no real way to get home except a small raft, a balsa wood construction of only eight by 16 feet. Setting out by themselves with no way to contact help and no food, they are forced to ford hundreds of miles of river to get to civilization, combating starvation and piranhas.

鈥淪lowly, the Bolivian jungle is swallowing us alive,鈥 FitzGerald writes, as she attempts to capture every moment of the journey. 鈥淪truggling to sit up on the maroon nylon sleeping bag, I lean over Fitz. He lies on his side, his back to me. I touch him to see if he鈥檚 breathing. He does the same to me when he wakes first, I think, though I鈥檝e never dared to ask.鈥 Starvation and peril don鈥檛 seem likely candidates for romance, but she makes it clear that it was their love that got them through an otherwise horrifying ordeal.

3. Vanishing Point by EV Legters ($15): While a loving marriage can provide buoyancy in an otherwise sinking situation, there are marriages that do nothing but drag those involved down. Letgers鈥 mournful novel details one of these terrible marriages 鈥 strained, distant, and rife with emotional abuse and betrayal. Angela Dunnewald and her husband Ross have a broken marriage of almost 20 years; Ross is rarely present, and when he is, he鈥檚 self-involved and sometimes even cruel. Angela feels trapped; though she leads a life of relative privilege, her life as a housewife is also relatively sheltered and her social interactions are many but superficial. Suddenly, however, she crosses paths with carpenter Daniel, which sparks both a renewed interest in life and an affair.

鈥淲hen Ross is gone, and he鈥檚 often gone, nerves surface, disorganization, and a sort of self-loathing. And this: During the first moments Ross is out the door, she鈥檒l feel weightless, free, and open to possibility.鈥 Angela鈥檚 world changes with Daniel鈥檚 presence; she becomes more intent on caring for her own needs and less intent on serving the interests of Ross and those of her best friend, Lydia the spirited socialite. She begins to pay attention to her aspirations of artistic expression, painting and even starting a studio.

Meanwhile, she has to combat her guilt over the affair, not wanting to be the one to formally break their vows: 鈥淪he鈥檚 not afraid of Ross and never has been; she鈥檚 afraid for him. She senses he could 鈥 someday will 鈥 disintegrate, and she never wants to be the reason.鈥 Through spare yet descriptive language, Legters sharply paints a picture of a woman who has become unmoored, while dropping little satirical barbs about Angela and Ross鈥檚 privileged community, like, 鈥淥nly a few women of the garden club members still touch their own soil.鈥 Keeping to one鈥檚 own soil in this community seems to be no mean feat.

What books are you wedded to? Tag us in your next committed read @BritandCo.

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