Adultery, one of fiction’s inexhaustible treasure-troves, is the main attraction in this second novel from Pope (In the Cherry Tree, 2003).
Benjamin Mandelbaum has cheated twice and been caught twice. His wife, Judy, has a three-strikes policy, so when she discovers an incriminating hotel bill, Ben’s out on his ear, even though this time he’s innocent. He decamps to his childhood home in Wintonbury, a suburb of Hartford, Connecticut, where his widower father lives alone. Whaddaya know, his near neighbor is Audrey Martin, someone he’d lusted after in private school. Both are now in their mid-40s; Audrey’s a housewife married to a workaholic partner in a law firm, Andrew, and mother of a teenager, Emily. Their attraction is immediate, and soon, Ben and Audrey are going at it like rabbits, even using a Starbucks bathroom for their coupling. Audrey needs the release; she hasn’t had sex with her husband, or anybody else, since that terrible day 18 months earlier when their son, Daniel, died after a car crash. Andrew, too, needs some release, and the focus moves to his growing fascination with an associate, Johnny Sampson, a supercilious ambassador’s son and carefree bisexual. Andrew’s new tack is not entirely convincing as tennis games lead to blow jobs. The family portrait enlarges to include Emily, who has become wildly promiscuous since losing her brother; an experienced shoplifter, she teams up with the neighborhood badass to break into houses, including Ben’s. Pope describes her teen angst compellingly, but it’s an awkward fit with the grown-ups’ disordered lives, and the psychological complexities of adultery are sacrificed to strenuous action as Andrew’s situation turns dire and Emily’s transgressions collide with Ben and Audrey’s trysts.
Well-grounded but a little too busy for its own good.