A happily married man is tempted by infidelity in Hotchkiss’ debut novel.
Fifty-five-year-old Benno Strong enjoys an enviably satisfying life: He runs a successful advertising agency and has a wonderful daughter and a loving relationship with his wife. He does seem to fantasize about nearly every beautiful woman he encounters, but he’s never acted on his reveries. However, the first time that he meets Natalia Tsukarova, a stunning business associate who’s more than 20 years his junior, he’s so dumbstruck by her beauty that she actually has to slap him to bring him back to awareness. Benno attempts a platonic friendship with her, but his will is weaker than he thought, and a torrid affair ensues. Hotchkiss deftly chronicles Benno’s paradoxical mix of excitement and painful self-examination: “If nothing else, this affair had torn the face off Strong’s complacency and made him take a hard, close look at who he was. He wasn’t sure he liked what he saw.” When his wife becomes terminally ill, he decides to cease his assignations with Natalia and devote himself to his marriage. After his spouse’s death, grief and guilt initially keep him from pursuing Natalia again—but they eventually rekindle their romance. The author explores his characters’ unconventional romantic arrangement with surprising ingenuity, and even includes a touch of the supernatural toward the end of the novel. Hotchkiss also insightfully parses Benno’s twilight crisis; despite his considerable achievements, he worries he’s settled for a small life—an anxiety that’s only exacerbated by the onset of age and his wife’s demise. The prose is lucidly sympathetic throughout as Hotchkiss consistently opts for deep character development over judgmental caricature. The one notable exception to this, however, is Benno’s wife, who seems more like a literary device than a full-fledged person; indeed, she remains nameless throughout the story.
A subtle, inventive interrogation of passion, trust, and mortality.