One look at the cover tells you what this book is about: an extra-marital affair and its consequences. Instead of a love triangle, though, we have a square before us – four people involved in events that are torrid, tawdry and entirely inevitable.
Harry and Maddy Winslow have it all – respect, success and enduring love. That is, until Claire sets her sights on Harry. Suddenly a two-decades-old marriage is in jeopardy. Claire is nothing less than a sex fiend and Harry is powerless to resist her. What follows is somewhat cliche. I hope I’m not giving too much away when I reveal what you can already guess: It isn’t long before Maddy finds out about Harry’s exploits, bringing a repentant Harry to his knees. He must decide if he’s willing to give up the lust and excitement of new love, for the stability and familiarity of old. And Maddy must decide whether to welcome him back into the fold.
The narrative hums along as expected until – during the last 40 pages or so – a plot twist heightens everything that came before. If not for these 40 pages I’d call this book mediocre. But Dubow brings himself up a notch, redeems himself with the understanding that there was a big reveal he was building towards.
Dubow’s writing is somewhat placid – easy, breezy and unchallenging. Still, the pages keep turning – the reader doesn’t have to wade through complexity to get at the story. Granted it’s an old story – a story that, if we haven’t experienced it, we’ve at least seen play out in movies and books – but it’s a story that Dubow has made his own, namely through his narrator, Walter. Though Walter is compared repeatedly on the back cover to Nick Carraway in The Great Gatsby, he comes closer to Gatsby himself, harboring, as he does, an ardent crush on Maddy. Come to think of it, I wish the publisher hadn’t hefted the Gatsby comparison on me. Because of it I was doing all this diagramming in my head (“Ok so if Walter is Gatsby, then Maddy is Daisy….”) In the end, the paring doesn’t serve Dubow at all. Walter is so much more annoying than Nick Carraway ever was, partly because he doesn’t stay detached. He has an emotional investment in the action, feelings he doesn’t act upon and his lack of agency is supremely frustrating. Walter insists he isn’t sexless and yet he is. His obsequiousness is disingenuous and at times he doesn’t even seem human. You’ve heard of the Stepford Wife? Well, he is the Stepford Friend.
Here’s another demerit: this book reeks, in places, of lewd gratuitousness. There are sex scenes that read like pornography, the details taken from one too many romance novels. Presumably, Dubow meant to elicit Harry and Claire’s attraction with these scenes but instead he cheapens their encounters and makes them dirty. So much so that I had a hard time believing there was anything else to their relationship – though they claim to be “in love.”
The final thing that irked me was Harry’s so-called occupation as a National-Book-Award-winning author. This is a fact we’re supposed to just accept at the outset and not care much more about. Except I did. I wanted to know what Harry’s acclaimed book was about. As he wrote the next one, I wanted to see the nature of his struggles. And I wanted some literary references thrown in – he was an author, wasn’t he? Instead, Harry’s writing in no way informs him as a person. He just writes – in a manner that’s both vacuous and suspect.
Obviously there was much that irritated me about this book. But I did get to the end and having done so I can say that it changes everything. Well, maybe not changes per say, but at least gives the book levity and consequence. Dubow plays a clever little trick on the reader, which if you get far enough, will make you smirk. Then you’ll keep going and understand the gravitas of it all, as the full intent of Dubow’s narrative becomes known.
Many thanks to TLC Book Tours and William Morrow & Company for my advance review copy!