Come Live My Life, by Robert H. Rimmer, New York: New American Library, 1977, 409 pp., $2.25 (paper)
Robert Rimmer is perhaps America's leading critic of contemporary marriage and sexual mores. His target, needless to say, is a worthy one. With nearly 50 percent of American marriages ending in divorce and with millions of singles seeking (but rarely finding) happiness in swinging, singles bars, short-term living together, or solitude, it seems clear that our present approaches to sex and marriage are not very successful.
Rimmer asks fundamental questions about these institutions. Can one person really be expected to fulfill all the emotional, intellectual, and sexual needs of another for an entire lifetime? Especially in today's world of vastly increased knowledge, opportunities, and mobility—not to mention sexual equality. Rimmer's answer is a resounding "No." On the other hand, he sees great value in marriage as a social institution—a source of stability and security for the partners and a good environment in which to raise children. Above all, marriage can provide the environment in which a truly mature, fulfilling kind of love can flourish. The absence of this kind of love from most of today's "liberated" sexual lifestyles is one of Rimmer's principal concerns.
The challenge thus becomes: How to rescue marriage from conventional monogamy? Over the past 13 years Rimmer has presented various fictional answers to this challenge. Open, nonpossessive premarital sexual experiences formed the basis of unique college environments in The Harrad Experiment and, more recently, The Premar Experiments. One of his earliest novels, The Rebellion of Yale Marratt, presented a working form of bigamy. In Proposition 31 two families form a corporate marriage, while in Thursday, My Love a married man and a married woman develop a "synergamous" relationship alongside their marriages. Now, in Come Live My Life Rimmer puts forth the concept of LovXchange—experimental two-week encounters in which married couples change partners and live each others' lives.
Rimmer's books have long been of interest to libertarians because of their positive, benevolent sense of life. Story lines that could, in the hands of a lesser writer, turn into cheap sensationalism, in Rimmer's hands live up to their potential as honest explorations of new dimensions of human relationships. Though Rimmer's protagonists are always fallible, believable human beings, they have a capacity for goodness, openness, and self-awareness seldom found in today's fictional characters.
Rimmer's popularity among libertarians led to REASON's December 1971 interview with him ("The Future of Marriage: An Interview with Robert Rimmer"). At that time Rimmer was familiar with Ayn Rand's works and acknowledged his popularity with her readers. Up until then, however, he was apparently unaware of the libertarian movement and the whole range of other libertarian thinkers. No longer. A REASON subscriber since the interview, Rimmer has in the past five years steeped himself in writers such as Hayek, Hospers, and Nozick. As a result, Come Live My Life is at least as interesting for its political/economic ideas as for its explorations of human relationships.
The novel revolves around two couples: the Atwoods and the Silvermans. Charles Atwood is an entrepreneur and self-made millionaire—a man who has "made Hank Rearden and John Galt the models of his life." His opposite number is Mark Silverman, radical economics professor and admirer of John Rawl's redistributionist concept of justice. When Mark's wife Shari, a social worker with views similar to her husband's, spends two weeks as Charles' temporary wife (while Roberta Atwood does likewise with Mark), more than just emotional/sexual boundaries are being challenged.
Although Rimmer seems to identify more with Mark's humanistic outlook and lifestyle, his portrayal of Charles Atwood as a Randian industrialist is realistic and fair. Rimmer, after all, besides being a successful novelist, has also headed his own printing company and understands very well the role of the businessman in society. Further, for all of Mark's talk of remaking society, his ultimate vision seems to be of some sort of workers' capitalism, rather than state socialism. Indeed, one of the few points of Atwood-Silverman agreement is the growing menace of the State.
How Rimmer simultaneously resolves the personal and ideological conflicts among the four characters is left for the reader to discover. The solution, though not orthodox libertarianism, is certainly plausible and violates no libertarian canons.
All in all, this book is something of a milestone in the diffusion of libertarian ideas into our culture. How many other popular paperbacks—on every grocery and drugstore rack—can boast dialogue casually dropping names like Rand, Nozick, and Hospers and discussing the meaning of terms like "laissez faire" and "libertarian"? Not every supermarket purchaser will read on to the book's 23-page bibliography (which includes REASON), but many undoubtedly will. The philosophy of liberty is gaining a whole new audience.
Editor Robert Poole has been a Rimmer fan since 1968.
This article originally appeared in print under the headline "Come Live My Life".