A review of Jenny Sanford's Staying True.

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Feb. 10 2010 7:01 AM

Jenny Sanford's Gentle Revenge

A review of Jenny Sanford's Staying True.

Staying True by Jenny Sanford.

The idea that Jenny Sanford wrote her memoir Staying True to mollify her sons, as she told the New York Times, is quite comical if you've actually read the book. There is no child who needs to know precisely when and how his father lied to his mother about the mistress in Argentina and how she watched him disintegrate into a pleading, heartsick fool. Sanford's tone is studiously not vengeful, and yet this book is an act of revenge. As well it should be, since the poor woman was married to the most doltish specimen of a husband this side of John Edwards—a fact she elaborates on in exquisite detail for future generations of Sanford men to chew on.

Hanna Rosin Hanna Rosin

Hanna Rosin is the founder of DoubleX and a writer for the Atlantic. She is also the author of The End of Men. Follow her on Twitter.

When she wrote the book, Sanford must have been thinking about her husband pining for the other woman at his infamous press conference, since she erases any possibility that anyone think of him as an expansive, indulgent romantic. The most memorable parts of the book are the ones in which she details his habits as an extreme cheapskate who could not possibly conduct a whirlwind romance because it would be too expensive. Many of her stories have already been recounted with disbelief—the one about the elaborate lead-up to the used $25 bicycle he bought her and his insistence that she serve as his campaign manager not because he wanted her around for the adventure but because, as he told her, "You're free."

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More in that vein: For his wife's birthday, Mark Sanford had a friend pick out a diamond necklace and a staffer hide it in the closet, and then faxed her clues for the scavenger hunt—"clever and boyishly sweet," she recalls. She found the necklace, and "I loved it!" she writes. But then he came home, saw it on her and said, "That is what I spent all the money on? I hope you kept the box," and he returned it the next day. Another time, he insisted the whole family join him in India for a work trip. (All four boys were under the age of 8.). Without telling her, he rented their house out while they were supposed to be away to make some extra money. Only, he got the dates wrong, so she and the boys had to stay at a hotel.

What puts Sanford in a cad class of his own, however, is his complete misunderstanding of the companionate marriage. He treats his wife as a fishing buddy to whom he can confess absolutely everything rather than someone whose feelings he ever has to protect with some minor omissions. "With the exception of that little man, I'm bored with life," he tells her after the birth of their first son, not bothering to explain how the wife fits into the boredom equation. Time and again he consults with Jenny about what he should do about Miss Argentina, soliciting both PR and relationship advice. "How'd I do?" he asked Jenny, after the press conference in which he pined for his "dear friend" in Argentina with whom "from a heart level, there was something real." Later, Jenny tried to convince him to give their marriage another year because if it didn't work out, the lady in Argentina probably wasn't going anywhere.

"What if she does?" he answered. "Do you want to wake up when you are eighty and know you never had a heart connection?"

Can you imagine? Even Bill Clinton would know better than to run his options by Hillary: "Hey, Hill, I know Monica's pretty young. But I'm not getting any younger, and what if this is my last chance?"

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