You Say Tomato, I Say Shut Up

You Say Tomato, I Say Shut UpSummary: After thirteen years of marriage, Annabelle Gurwitch and Jeff Kahn have found, “We’re just not that into us.”

Instead of giving up, they’ve held their relationship together by ignoring conventional wisdom and fostering a lack of intimacy, using parenting as a competitive sport, and dropping out of couples therapy.  The books includes their moving yet unsentimental account of the medical odyssey that their family embarked upon after their infant son was diagnosed with V A C T E R L, a rare series of birth defects. Annabelle and Jeff’s unforgivingly raw, uproariously funny martial memoir proves that in marriage, all you need is love—and a healthy dose of complaining, co-dependence, and Pinot Noir. 

Serving up equal parts sincerity and cynicism, their he said, she said memoir is sure to strike both laughter and terror into the hearts of any couple (not to mention every single man or woman who is contemplating the connubial state).


You Say Tomato, I Say Shut Up, by Annabelle Gurwitch and Jeff Kahn 8.0

Jeff on moving in together:
“Within days of Annabelle’s arrival, I became very aware that she demanded solitude and had the housekeeping habits of a feral animal.”

Annabelle on moving in together:
“The guy had some sort of nudity radar, if I would even take my clothes off for a second he’d be in front of me cheering like he’d scored box seats at Fenway Park.”

‘You Say Tomato, I Say Shut Up’ took me by surprise.

It only fell into my lap because I’m compulsive in exploring artists’ works. I found a copy of the documentary ‘Fired!’ at my local purveyor of used goods and was immediately pulled by the notion that the filmmaker, Annabelle Gurwitch, had been fired by none other than Woody Allen – then went on a journey exploring the experience of getting a pink slip from many perspectives, including from some of her comedian friends.

I didn’t necessarily want to take a gamble on it, however, having never heard of it before. I decided instead to go read up on it. Reviews were mixed, but the more I read the more I was intrigued. I then checked my local library for a copy – if unsure, the safest bet is borrow instead of buy. They didn’t have it, but they did have Gurwitch’s companion book, also titled ‘Fired!’. And they had ‘You Say Tomato, I Say Shut Up’. I requested both.

Since I haven’t yet seen ‘Fired!’, I didn’t want to read the book. I was busy reading a bunch of books for my Hallowe’en slate, but I eventually had a lull when the first volume of ‘Locke and Key’ took its sweet time in arriving, so I decided to tackle ‘You Say Tomato, I Say Shut Up’. I was lured in by the riotous quotes at the back of the book and the promise of relationship chaos turned into hilarity by Gurwitch and her spouse Jeff Kahn.

‘You Say Tomato, I Say Shut Up’ is basically an overview of what appears, from any outsider’s perspective, as a seriously dysfunctional marriage – from the moment that they meet, almost two decades ago, to their thirteen years into their not-so-happily-ever-after. It recounts all the key aspects of their relationship, from courting, to living together, to marriage, to parenthood in painfully funny ways – from purely subjective points of view.

You see, Gurwitch and Kahn decided to write the book together, but they couldn’t agree on the details enough to stick to one version of the facts: they had to write it in a “He Said, She Said’ fashion which has them take turns recounting their version of the “facts”. This means that each chapter has a very brief intro, and then one of the two begins to rant, followed by the other countering that version of the story with their own. Each chapter then ends with raw data an statistics on relationships that may surprise some.

As someone who struggles with relationships, including my current one, I was immediately pulled into their tales. I couldn’t figure out why Kahn, a seemingly average guy who writes for television, would be so obsessed with this one woman and pursue her so relentlessly in the face of such obvious disinterest. On the other hand, I couldn’t figure out why this woman would eventually fall and/or settle for what appears to be a totally opposite version of what she wants.

Why would these people do such a thing? Why do I, for that matter? And how did they manage to make it work for so long when they are constantly tearing at the seams, pulling in opposite directions at all times? Could they have found the answer that I have long sought? I mean, if they have managed to make it work despite all odds for so damned long, how is it that I find myself incapable to? Surely there must be some insight into the matter…

And so it was that I plowed through the book, seeking answers to the eternal question: what the f- am I doing wrong, and what can I do differently? I read through this tome seeking the relationship holy grail for one reason, and one reason only: these two people are polar opposites, with extremely divergent visions, are very picky, critical and neurotic individuals, and yet… they managed to keep it together for what amounts to a long time in this day and age.

One might think that reading a couple bicker might prove tedious, except that Gurwitch and Kahn are anything but. Sure, one can see how they would exasperate the other, but they make themselves somewhat relatable and pepper their writing with frequent bouts of biting sarcasm and wit, making their accounts (and gripes) pleasing to read. I laughed out loud while reading this book, which likely annoyed my fellow public transit travelers.

Tough crap for them: I had a blast, and dug both sides of the story, even though both protagonists annoyed me at various points. I also understood their needs and disappointments, felt for them when things didn’t go quite as planned, and wanted them to find the happiness that seemed to elude them at every turn of the page. In short, Gurwitch and Kahn, for all their flaws, made for an interesting -if maddening- individuals and a fascinating couple.

Would I recommend their model to anyone? F- no! I doubt very much that they would either: they’re travel partners with seemingly different destinations, with one traveling by plane and the other hitchhiking. Unless one enjoys the constant compromises and God-like tolerance needed to keep such a relationship going,  I would advise against choosing their path. But would I recommend their book? Absolutely! Gurwitch and Kahn are an odd couple of the grandest order!

Even though they can’t provide any answers whatsoever, are completely baffled by each other and even suggest that the book could be the final nail in their relationship’s coffin, they are still worth discovering: for reasons unknown, these two love each other even though they are extremely frustrated. They remain together because they can’t bear being apart – more than that, they need each other. So they remain together, even when one says “tomato” and the other says “shut up”.

Annabelle and Jeff on flunking out of therapy:
“We have a suggestion for couples that are thinking of sinking all of their hard earned money on therapy:  Go to Paris instead. Get drunk and eat great food. You might eventually get divorced, but at least you’ll have the memory of harping at each other in front of Notre Dame instead of in some cramped, windowless therapist’s office.”

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